Justice Dept., PTO announce patent position at odds with FTC

On Tuesday, the Justice Department and Patent and Trademark Office announce a surprising new position. In a joint news conference, the two agencies said that companies that hold a “key patent” ought to be able to win sales bans as punishment for infringement.

That policy is at odds with that of the Federal Trade Commission, which has said it supports punishment through monetary damages, not through sales bans. The FTC has said it fears that the public interest and consumer choice would suffer if products were forbidden from reaching the market.

As tech-savvy Florida residents might already know, one of the major reasons behind the joint announcement of the Justice Department and PTO is the cutthroat competition in the technology industry, particularly among smartphone makers. Companies like HTC, Apple and Samsung are under pressure to continually produce flashy new products. If Company A can squelch sales of Company B’s infringing product, it would be a great benefit to Company A. As things stand now, monetary compensation may not be enough to address the harm caused by an infringing product hitting the market.

One thing we do want to note is that the Justice Department and PTO made it clear they think a sales ban should be ordered only in “rare, very specific” circumstances.

What are your thoughts on this issue? While it is true that we do ban sales of certain products, such as certain dangerous or defective items, it is also true that such bans diminish the number of products on the market and thereby limit consumer choice.

Source: Reuters, “Justice Department against most sales bans for infringing key patents,” Diane Bartz, Jan. 8, 2013