In August of last year, Merpel posted some fairly critical comments about the use of a jury to assess patent damages in the United States infringement litigation suit brought by Apple against deadly rival Samsung; a follow-up post by guest Kat Stefano here. Well, jury assessments in patent trials are officially the stuff of which comic cartoon strips are made, as can be seen from the Dilbert strip which was published on 26 February.
It is no exaggeration to say that most of the civilised world is not enamoured with the use of juries in patent infringement litigation. Their critics have hitherto been found among the better-informed members of the legal profession, among practitioners, businessmen and academics who are of the opinion that issues relating to the infringement of patent claims and its consequence are far too technically difficult for most ordinary jurors to comprehend. This should not be seen as a criticism of jurors per se, but rather as an acknowledgment of the extraordinary complexity of patent law and many of the areas of technology in which it is the subject of competing claims.
The Dilbert cartoon above reflects this widely-held belief that the notion of the jury's involvement in patent proceedings is absurd and laughable. If you consider how difficult it can be for a student to sit through even a one-hour patent class, on a course for which he has enrolled and which may turn into a source of future income for him, just imagine what it must feel like to be a juror who has to listen to both legal submissions and recitations of technical data for days at a time; no wonder the smart folk wriggle out of jury service. And the captioned reference to the square root of whatever 22 over zero, given the mathematical abilities of the average human being, may not be far from the mark. So this Kat salutes Dilbert: it's comforting to know that the right to jury trials in patent disputes which, in this era, is as incomprehensible to the non-American psyche as that other Constitutional relic, the right to bear arms, is shared by at least one perceptive American critic.
Should juries hear US patent cases? See Jennifer F. Miller here
Risk of reversal of jury awards here
Some qualified support for jury awards, at least the ones that seem to be okay, here
Dilbert on patent trolls here
A katpat goes to Chris Torrero for being the first to forward this cartoon.