Patents in Pittsburgh

On Wednesday (that's Sept. 7), I'll be speaking at a program downtown designed to introduce Pittsburgh lawyers to a new set of Local Rules for patent lawsuits filed in federal court here. Here's the program information. For lawyers out there -- this is a PBI program offering 3 hours of CLE.

Though the program is by and for lawyers, anyone with an interest in local technology businesses should take note of what's going on. We all know that patents are big business. Protecting them is important. Enter the patent lawsuit. The company may want to file one against an infringer; the company may find itself defending a claim that it has infringed someone else's patent. Courts that hear these lawsuits have a lot of leeway in setting up the procedural rules that the parties to the lawsuit have to follow. Those rules can by plaintiff-friendly or defendant-friendly; they can be patent-friendly or infringer-friendly. The Local Rules that we will be describing on Wednesday are part of an effort to make Pittsburgh a more technology-friendly business community.

How? Patent lawsuits always happen in federal court. The federal courts have a set of all-purpose procedural rules designed for ordinary civil litigation. Historically, however, the courts have not had any special rules designed for some of the unique things that happen in patent litigation -- like having to interpret the meaning of the patent "claims," or protecting parties against disclosure of confidential information as part of the usual "discovery" process that takes up a lot of the lawyers' time. A few years ago, the federal district court in San Francisco was the first in the country to come up with a set of local patent rules. Those rules, on the whole, tilt somewhat in favor of the defendant -- which is usually the firm accused of patent infringement. The pace of the litigation is slow, giving meaning to the maxim, "Justice delayed is justice denied" (remember that the defendant's variation is "Justice delayed is . . . justice").

Within the limits of the all-purpose civil procedure rules, the new Pittsburgh Local Patent Rules accelerate the process where it's possible to do so, here and there restoring some advantages to the plaintiff/patent holder and on the whole, leveling the procedural playing field. The hope is that when patent holders have the ability to choose where to file their cases, they'll choose the Pittsburgh venue. That should bring more visibility and work to the local patent bar and give local tech firms some confidence that the local legal community is working to grow the tech economy.


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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