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A Snapshot of University Patent Litigation

Today’s blog is written by guest author Pedram Sameni, the CEO and Founder of Patexia.
The views expressed are solely those of the contributing author.

As patent litigation overall has grown rapidly since 2010, the industry has also seen a shift in some traditionally litigation averse players. University tech transfer organizations in particular have increased their filings and drawn industry attention over the last few years.

Two cases in particular have been highlighted in the press for their stunning initial award amounts. First Carnegie Mellon won its case against Marvell, bringing in an initial award of over $1 billion in damages, the largest patent verdict of all time. This was followed by the decision in WARF v Apple, where the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation was initially awarded $234 million in damages.

Awards of this magnitude have stimulated an industry debate. On one side, many have started to compare universities and their tech transfer organizations to NPEs and so-called “patent trolls,” questioning the innovation benefits of lawsuits against operating companies. While on the other side, universities and their defendants point out that a critical role of research universities is to bring technologies to market, and that in many cases where federal funding is in play they are required to pursue tech transfer under the Bayh-Dole Act. University advocates suggest that without getting properly remunerated for the use of their technologies universities will not be able to continue their R&D work in the long term.

According to a recent article, 245 patent infringement lawsuits were filed by universities between January 1, 1973 and December 31, 2010. Based on Patexia data, over 200 cases involving universities as either a defendant or plaintiff have been filed since then. It should be noted that the increase is at least partially attributable to a number of additional factors including changes in filing rules limiting the number of defendants per case. Some of the key cases with university plaintiffs in recent years include:

University Defendant Technology

Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation
(University of Wisconsin – Madison)


Microchip technology

Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation
(University of Wisconsin – Madison)

Microchip technology

Boston University Epistar

Blue LED technology

Carnegie Mellon University

Marvell Technology

hard disk drive technology

University of Minnesota

Verizon, AT&T,
T-Mobile, and Sprint

wireless communications

Beyond the cases listed above, some of the frequent players seen in university litigation include the University of California system, MIT, Johns Hopkins, the University of Texas and others.

Patent litigation can be a delicate balance for universities. While they are responsible for massive R&D efforts and large pools of patented technologies, they are also careful of their reputations and try to maintain the moral high ground. Thus, many universities perceive actively pursuing litigation for licensing fees as a risky proposition. As universities have been drawn into increased litigation as well as the lobbying and debate surrounding congressional patent reform, this will continue to be an interesting area to monitor, especially given the size of damages that have been awarded to university litigants.

Patexia was founded on a simple idea: use the power of collaboration and technology to open the way for innovation and improve the patent system. Patexia’s online platform connects organizations to a global community of over 10,000 subject matter experts and patent professionals who help Protect, Monetize, Analyze, and Generate IP. Patexia helps clients fight frivolous patent litigation in a variety of ways including patent quality insurance and by bringing together defense coalitions to challenge weak patents. Patexia also taps into its global community and beyond to provide Expert and IP/Legal Recruiting services.