2020 was a year of turmoil and unexpected events. While many businesses struggled throughout the year, patent litigation experienced an uptick across the board. According to Docket Navigator, 2020 was the first year to see an increase in the total annual number of patent cases since 2015.[1] Compared to 2018 and 2019, this past year had approximately 400 more new patent litigation proceedings in district courts. There was also an increase in the number of parties involved in new patent cases, with a net gain of roughly 4,000 parties. Similarly, courts saw a net increase of approximately 3,000 patent accusations from 2019 to 2020.

In terms of new district court filings, there was a 12 percent total increase. The distribution between district courts also changed. Patent cases filed with the district courts handling the most patent cases saw a roughly 30 percent yearly increase since 2018. There has been, however, a shift from the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in terms of most patent cases filed per year. The Western District of Texas saw a 199 percent increase in proceedings from 2019 to 2020. Notably, with the significant increase in caseloads, some of the busiest patent courts have managed to maintain timelines similar to what they had in years past, with the exception of the Central District of California.

Number of New Patent Cases[2]

Remarkably, 2020 saw the fewest requests for inter partes review (IPR) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office since before 2016.[3] While there are fewer requests, the percentage of IPRs settling is also the lowest it has been since before 2016. Moreover, the institution rate (calculated by dividing petitions instituted by decisions on institution) is the lowest it has been in eight years. Of those requests, it appears that most requests were instituted for patents covering chemical and electrical/computer subject matter.

Overall, COVID-19 has presented a variety of challenges for businesses, courts and attorneys. While 2020 was accompanied by much uncertainty, one thing is clear, patent litigation is on the rise and courts are equipped to handle that challenge.

[1] Patent Litigation Special Report: 2020 Year In Review, Docket Navigator, January 19, 2021.
[2] www.docketnavigator.com
[3] PTAB Trial Statistics FY20 End of Year Outcome Roundup IPR, PGR, CBM, United States Patent and Trademark Office (June 2020).