Apple has recently become involved in a lawsuit that looks set to reawaken the debate around non-practicing entities and the issue of so-called patent trolls.
On 6 April 2018 Omni MedSci, Inc. filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Texas alleging Apple was infringing four of Omni MedSci’s patents with its Apple Watch line, with the patents in question relating to the use of a light source as a heart rate sensor in a wearable device.
The Eastern District of Texas has become increasingly notorious in recent years as the jurisdiction of choice for patent trolls as they feel that particular jurisdiction has a favourable attitude towards plaintiffs in patent litigation. As a result, many members of the technology community now assume that any entity filing their lawsuit in the Eastern District must be a patent troll. It was perhaps predictable, then, that a significant number of Apple’s followers might level this accusation at Omni MedSci. However, do the facts support such a cut and dried criticism?
It is true that Omni MedSci have a record of bringing lawsuits against technology companies for patent infringement, and it appears they met with Apple shortly before the release of the original Apple Watch, at which point the design of the heart rate sensor would likely have been mostly completed. Furthermore, following that meeting Omni MedSci tailored the claims of their pending patent application to better match the design of the Apple Watch.
On the other hand, if Omni MedSci really did invent this technology before Apple then they are entitled to compensation for their efforts and amending claims to better suit the commercial purposes of the patentee is standard practice.
Whether or not Omni MedSci are a practicing entity, patent licensing is known to provide the motivation for small entities to engage in research and development even when they may not be in a position to manufacture and release a product on a global scale. Moreover, you could argue research on this level is just as important in spurring large corporations such as Apple to develop new products as direct competition to such innovation. We should therefore be careful before criticising smaller companies involved in patent litigation before a complete picture is available.