While Justice Anthony Kennedy has decided to retire from the Supreme Court after 30 years, his concurrence in eBay v. MercExchange, which stressed the unreasonableness of injunctive relief over a minor feature of a multifunctional product, will be a lasting legacy for which the tech sector (apart from patent trolls and companies that used to make or are still making devices, but largely or entirely relying on patent licensing revenue) will be forever grateful.
With this voice of reason in connection with patent enforcement leaving the Supreme Court, and with someone like Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim mislabeling as "the United States' policy" an unFRANDly agenda hostile to innovators focused on making actual products, the product-making, truly innovative majority of America's technology industry should make an effort to ensure that Justice Kennedy's successor will have a very balanced approach to patent enforcement. Where the rumored candidates stand on patent policy is usually unknown: you'd only have a clue if they had previously served on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, or maybe if they had demonstrated a certain approach to patent cases at the trial stage (Judge Rodney Gilstrap--obviously not a candidate--is undoubtedly unbalanced). But that's rarely the case. For an example, no one really knew where Justice Gorsuch would stand, but he's a judge whom I would always trust that he'll go to extreme lengths to interpret the law correctly and reasonably (and to explain his reasoning in an intelligible way).
At this stage, there is a high-potential candidate we should rally behind: Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah).
He's on the President's shortlist of about two dozen potential nominees. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), himself often considered a potential Supreme Court nominee and probably one of the smartest jurists ever to hold elective office, vouches for his colleague's judicial conservatism. As does Mark Levin. Or the Hoover Institution's Adam White. And Senator Lee would gladly accept.
There are, however, two obstacles, apart from the fact that there are many other impressive people on the list of potential nominees. They aren't insurmountable, but they are significant. One is that Senator Mike Lee is not a sitting judge, unlike other recent nominees. The other issue is that he called on then-candidate Trump to withdraw before the general election when the "p***y-grabbing" recording came up. I must admit that even I, as a longstanding Trump supporter (even on this blog I voiced support for him in early 2016), was very concerned at the time that the recording would cost him too many female votes. Fortunately, he won anyway, and more and more people believe that he may go down in history as one of the most impactful presidents ever. But in that situation so close to the election, Senator Lee was skeptical, for understandable reasons.
I'm reasonably optimistic that President Trump will let bygones be bygones, and that he's not too much bound to this conventional thinking that only a sitting judge should be nominated. He's the first president never to have held political office or to have been a general.
Silicon Valley, and Microsoft and Amazon up north, and many other tech innovators across the United States, should support Senator Lee. The Supreme Court will continue to hear many patent cases in the coming years and beyond. Sooner or later, a FRAND case will reach the Supreme Court, given all that is going on with the controversy surrounding Qualcomm's business practices (most recently, an extremely interesting motion for an anti-enforcement injunction brought by consumers) or the patent dispute between the world's two leading Android device makers (Samsung v. Huawei), and numerous other issues and disputes. If Apple and then-Google's Motorola hadn't settled, even Judge Posner's historic FRAND decision could have gone all the way up to the top U.S. court.
There also is some potential for legal questions involving the United States International Trade Commission (USITC) and its sole remedy (equivalent to injunctive relief) reaching the Supreme Court in the not too distant future.
A hypothetical Justice Mike Lee would understand how to strike a reasonable balance between the interests of right holders and those of innovators who don't intend to infringe but simply implement industry standards or independently create products. He's knowledgeable on antitrust as well, and patent and antitrust matters overlap ever more often.
I've previously mentioned Senator Lee's advocacy of reasonableness in patent enforcement:
Please support him if you can.
Share with other professionals via LinkedIn: