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New Patent Suits in Q1 Hit Lowest Level Since 2011

But is it a true detente or just a blip?

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For a while it seemed that everyone was suing everyone over patents, especially in the world of mobile technology.

There was Oracle vs. Google, Microsoft vs. Motorola, and of course the epic battle between Apple and Samsung. Then there are all the other patent suits that tech companies deal with all the time, but that rarely make headlines.

However, there may be some hope that things are at long last on the wane. There were only 955 patent suits filed in the first quarter of 2016, the lowest level since 2011, according to legal analytics firm Lex Machina.

While the quarterly number is clearly an improvement, it may not be time to jump for joy just yet. A new rule with regard to how patent suits are filed went into effect Dec. 1. That led to a flood of lawsuits in November (a record 259 suits were filed on Nov. 30 alone). That could mean that some suits that would have been filed in recent months got moved forward.

“When you look at it month by month, it was a low January and a low February and a much higher March,” noted Lex Machina legal data scientist Brian Howard.

There has also been an increasing influence of so-called high-volume plaintiffs — that is, firms that bring a large number of patent suits each year.

“More of these cases are being controlled by fewer plaintiffs,” Howard said. “It’s becoming less about statistics and more about what’s going on in the mind of a few plaintiffs.”

Given all that, it will be interesting to see what next quarter brings.

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