They just keep coming and coming. The number of intellectual property complaints filed at the U.S. International Trade Commission in the first six months of 2011 is well above the pace set in 2010 - which itself smashed previous caseload records.
Between Jan. 1 and June 30, companies brought 42 cases alleging IP infringement under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930 at the ITC. If the deluge continues, it will be a 50% increase over last year.
The 2010 docket of 56 cases was an all-time high, up more than 75% over 2009, as reported in December.
The biggest spike in 2011 came in June, when 14 new cases were filed. Among them: Samsung Electronics suing Apple Inc. over iPhones, iPods and iPads; AU Optronics Corp. suing Samsung and others over flat panel display devices – and Samsung suing AU over liquid crystal display devices; Honeywell International Inc. suing Furuno Electric Co. over GPS systems; and OSRAM GmbH suing LG Electronics Inc. over light-emitting diodes.
“The whole world seems to be focused on Section 337,” said Tom Schaumberg, a name partner at Adduci, Mastriani & Schaumberg, which last year was involved in more ITC cases than any other firm.
Several factors explain the surge in cases, he said. More foreign-based companies like Samsung, Nokia and Toshiba are using the ITC offensively, as are Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Hewlett-Packard Co., and Microsoft Corp. The disputes often involve high-tech products with short shelf-lives, and the ITC’s 16-month average turnaround is crucial.
Given the volume of cases, it’s not clear whether the ITC’s six administrative law judges can keep up the pace. Increasingly, they’ve encouraged parties to settle or mediate cases, and have been holding Markman hearings on patent claim construction.
Schaumberg said he doesn’t expect the second half of the year to be as busy as the first, but in the meantime, “It’s a tremendous workload for the judges.”