Law professor develops big-data approach to patent value

Tuesday, April 11, 2017



LAWRENCE — Patents have long been used by inventors to protect their creations, but for just as long it has been exceedingly difficult to accurately determine the value of patents. Even today, to value a patent in a rigorous manner is expensive, requires the hiring of patent law and economics experts, and takes a long time.

A University of Kansas law professor and his University of Washington co-author have just published a study that offers a new and powerful method to evaluate patents, either individually or grouped together into gigantic portfolios. Their new approach, based on network and big-data analysis, can instantly determine which patents are the most important, whether overall, or by owner, inventor, attorney, patent examiner or technology. Doing so allows the authors to probe for answers to previously unanswerable questions about patent law, and their novel approach to “patent analytics” has the potential to open up a new area of legal study of patents, innovation, economics and policy.

Andrew Torrance, the Earl B. Schurtz Research Professor at the KU School of Law, and Jevin West, a professor at the University of Washington Information School, have co-authored “All Patents Great and Small: A Big Data Network Approach to Valuation”, which was published March 27 in the University of Virginia Journal of Law and Technology. The article outlines the powerful methods of network analysis they used to explore and organize one of the biggest patent data sets ever compiled. Among their findings, they reveal that litigated patents tend to be much more valuable than those not litigated and that the value of litigated patents tends to rise strongly with the level of court in which litigation occurs. For example, patents litigated in federal district court (the lowest level) are, on average, more than five times more valuable than unlitigated patents, and patents that reach the U.S. Supreme Court are, on average, more than eight times more valuable.

When Torrance and West plotted the average value of litigated patents on a map depicting all the federal judicial districts in the U.S., they discovered something surprising. Not only do the average values of litigated patents vary widely from district to district (Nevada and Connecticut host litigation of extremely valuable patents), they also noticed that the largest concentration of districts with litigated patents of especially high value, occurs in a “patent hotspot” in the southern central portion of the U.S., comprising Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. By contrast, the northern central U.S. districts tended to host litigations of low-value patents, forming a sort of “patent tundra.” Received wisdom would suggest that districts on the East and West coasts would see litigation of the most valuable patents, while the middle of the country would be “patent flyover country.” However, careful and powerful analysis of big patent data decisively refutes this assumption.

Torrance and West take advantage of huge sets of patent data made available by the United States Patent & Trademark Office. These data sets include detailed information about every U.S. patent issued from 1976 to the present. Determining patent value has been extremely difficult, given the complex nature of patent documents, the overwhelming amount of data and the traditional reliance on the opinions of patent “experts.” Instead, Torrance and West used algorithms developed to analyze vast amounts of data, including patent citation data.

“The mountain of data available on patents has become so large it’s just not possible for any individual, however brilliant, to understand, let alone master, it,” Torrance said. “What we’re doing could be called ‘big patent data analysis.’”

The approach not only can answer questions that were previously simply not answerable, it can help formulate new research questions. For example, few people would have thought to ask why valuable patents tend to be litigated in courts in Kansas and Colorado before the study, because it was widely assumed patents in the heartland were of low value. Now that the study has revealed the opposite to be true, Torrance and West intend to investigate what factors might explain the rich vein of patent gold that seems to run through federal courts in the south central region of the country.

Being able to judge the value of patents can have significant influence on the field of patent law. What has always been an expensive, slow, even artisanal process can now be done quickly, cheaply and efficiently, Torrance said, and can help patent holders, or anyone else interested in patent value, determine which ones are worth defending, which are not worth litigating, which ones to buy, sell or license and much more. Their analysis even sheds light on which inventors, law firms and patent examiners give rise to the most or least valuable patents.

“It could educate people on where the best places to litigate are. It may show we should change the laws on where it’s possible to litigate patents,” Torrance said of big-data patent analysis. “We’ve only looked at a limited set of questions so far, but the results of our first study encourage us to test a number of other basic assumptions in patent law, some of which may end up being unsupported. We think big patent data network analysis is a valuable way to probe those assumptions. It’s imperative to find out as much as we can about inventing and patenting so that we can better understand and foster innovation, which, we believe, is one of the best hopes for progress in the big issues facing humanity, like alleviating poverty, curing disease and protecting the environment.”

Interest in patent analytics and big patent data have recently reached a fever pitch. In March 2017 alone, Torrance was invited to share his expertise in the area at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, the government of Canada, in Ottawa, Canada, and to the government of Ontario in Toronto, Canada. Other attendees included leading legal analytics companies, patent-holding corporations, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and patent offices in Britain, Canada and the United States. He and West have also been invited by Cambridge University Press to contribute a chapter on patent analytics to a forthcoming book on legal analytics, and their study was recently listed on Social Science Research Network's top-10 download list for Intellectual Property: Empirical Studies eJournal.

A burgeoning field, data analytics in regard to law could open a new avenue of careers for aspiring lawyers and even change some of the skills deemed valuable in the law. The field has long been viewed as an art in which rhetorical and writing skills, for the purposes of producing strong, persuasive arguments, were considered the most valuable traits, Torrance said. But in the era of big data, complex algorithms and computer programming – the fundamentals for legal analytics – mathematical, scientific and computer science abilities are likely to rise in importance.

“There is a commonly held view that students who enter law school do so, in part, to avoid math,” Torrance said with a laugh. “But you cannot outrun math. It’s even finding its way into the law now. It was inevitable that mathematical analysis would eventually reach the law. Now it’s about to hit like a tidal wave. Math and science have always been required for patent law, so it’s no surprise that patent law is at the forefront of this trend. Patent law has always generated mountains of data, so it’s ripe for patent analytics. I think we’re going to find some very fascinating patterns in patent data, leading to the realization that we really don’t understand this area nearly as well as we thought we did. Big data and powerful analytic methods are throwing open the frontiers of patent law to a new generation of exploration. I can’t wait to be surprised by the findings that lie in wait for us. The level of interest in patent analytics and big patent data is exploding. We used to work on this research in the academic shadows, but suddenly a spotlight is shining on this area."

KU Law Professor Says Court Is Giving Legislature One Last Chance To Fix School Funding Adequacy

"A Kansas University Law Professor says that the Kansas Supreme Court appears to be giving the Kansas Legislature one last chance to fix school funding adequacy.

'The court found the current school funding provision to be unconstitutional under the Kansas Constitution,' said Lumen 'Lou' Mulligan, Director of the Shook, Hardy & Bacon Center for Excellence in Advocacy. 'It stayed the enforcement of an order until the end of June.' 

The current law that gives schools in Kansas block grant funding is due to expire, anyway.

Law Prof Part of Effort to Improve International Arbitration Cases

"In international arbitration cases, billions of dollars and the validity of government regulations can be at stake, so it is imperative parties are able to choose the best arbitrator to settle their disputes. A University of Kansas law professor is part of a project working to improve the information available to parties in such cases, making the process fairer and more efficient and increasing the diversity of people deciding international arbitration cases.

Day in the Life: Bruce Hopkins gets third law degree at age 72

"Bruce Hopkins is a professor of the practice at the University, teaching students on nonprofit organizations and law while practicing that same law in Kansas City. Hopkins boasts almost 50 years of experience within nonprofit and tax-exempt law, working with a wide range of nonprofit organizations.

In 2013, at the age of 72, Hopkins decided to enroll back in classes at the University to pursue his third law degree.

'I saw this degree as a goal. I saw it as an objective,' Hopkins said."

Law professor to be inducted into Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame

Friday, April 07, 2017

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas law professor and former KU journalism dean will be inducted into the Kansas Newspaper Hall of Fame.

Mike Kautsch, a media law expert and one-time journalist who has long championed government transparency, will receive the award during the Kansas Press Association’s annual convention today, April 7, in Topeka.

“His service to the journalism profession is both wide and deep,” the association reported. “For KPA, he has served for years as a media law consultant. Whenever KPA has had a need for assistance, Mike has always been there, giving prompt and reasoned advice as KPA and others try to strengthen the state’s open government laws.”

Kautsch was instrumental in the drive to establish a reporter’s privilege in Kansas, working with state revisors of statutes, legislators, KPA staff and the state’s other media associations to pass that law in 2010. The shield law allows reporters to protect the identities of confidential sources without fear of prosecution.

After 18 years at the KU William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, the final 10 spent as dean, Kautsch joined the KU law faculty in 1997 and launched the school’s Media, Law and Policy program. He continues to lead the program, now called Media, Law and Technology, writes about freedom of expression and freedom of information, and teaches courses such as Media and the First Amendment, Copyright Law and Digital Works, and Digital Privacy Rights in an Open Society. He has received a number of awards for teaching and advising KU students.

“I have felt privileged over the years to work with students and interact with KPA members and others who share my deep interest in the First Amendment and related areas of law,” Kautsch said.

Kautsch testifies before Kansas legislative committees on media-related bills, participates annually in planning and presenting a national Media and the Law Seminar in Kansas City and chairs the Media Bar Committee of the Kansas Bar Association. He is a charter member of the Kansas Sunshine Coalition for Open Government and served for six years as a gubernatorial appointee to the Kansas Humanities Council board of directors. He is routinely quoted by major news outlets covering media law issues.

An Omaha native, Kautsch holds degrees in journalism and law from the University of Iowa. He worked as a reporter at the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Atlanta Journal prior to his career in higher education.

Kautsch and his wife, Elaine, live in Lawrence and have two grown children.

Former Wichita Eagle editor W. Davis “Buzz” Merritt Jr. will also be inducted.

KU law professor receives third law degree from KU

"Four more years of school after college. Passing the bar. Many would consider getting a law degree impressive. But how about getting three law degrees?

It seems University of Kansas law professor Bruce Hopkins can't get enough of learning the art of law.

...

'I had a number of times when students that I was either teaching, or had taught in the past,' Hopkins said, 'was now in class with them.'

Hopkins, who turns 76 next month, got his second law degree just a couple years after receiving his first, in the early 70s."

Law professor part of effort to improve international arbitration cases

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

LAWRENCE — In international arbitration cases, billions of dollars and the validity of government regulations can be at stake, so it is imperative parties are able to choose the best arbitrator to settle their disputes. A University of Kansas law professor is part of a project working to improve the information available to parties in such cases, making the process fairer and more efficient and increasing the diversity of people deciding international arbitration cases.

Christopher Drahozal, the John M. Rounds Professor of Law, is a member of the board of directors of Arbitrator Intelligence, Inc., also known as AI, an entity affiliated with Penn State University that aims to promote fairness, transparency and accountability in the arbitrator selection process. When disputes arise under international treaties, contracts and investment deals, the parties often choose to submit the dispute to arbitration, where an independent third-party rules on the case, instead of the traditional court system.

“Arbitration is different from litigation in court because in arbitration the parties pick the person who resolves their dispute (the arbitrator). But arbitration can become less fair if one party has better information about prospective arbitrators than the other,” Drahozal said. “AI seeks to equalize the information available to parties selecting arbitrators by collecting and disseminating feedback on how international arbitrators manage and decide cases.”

The centerpiece of AI’s innovation is the Arbitrator Intelligence Questionnaire, or AIQ. The AIQ is a questionnaire is designed to be administered to parties at the end of a case to collect information on how the arbitrator managed and decided the case. In February, AI posted the AIQ for public comment on its webpage, and the public comment period closed March 17. AI then will incorporate the feedback into a version of the AIQ it plans to make publicly available in June.

The AIQ is designed to gather unbiased information about the arbitrator by asking parties a series of specific, typically objective questions. AI will then make the information available to parties who are seeking to select arbitrators through AI Reports, which will be a substantial improvement over the current method of gathering information about prospective arbitrators, which is through ad hoc person-to-person phone calls.

“More, and more accurate, information will empower parties, counsel, institutions and even arbitrators, to make better-informed choices in selecting arbitrators and constituting tribunals,” said Catherine Rogers, professor at Penn State Law School and founder of Arbitrator Intelligence. “It will also reduce information asymmetries that undermine the fairness of arbitrator appointments and will facilitate greater diversity by allowing newer arbitrators meaningful opportunities to establish reputations based on their actual performance.”

AI will roll out the AIQ beginning in June with events in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Peru, Panama and Mexico. By beginning in locations other than the traditional centers of arbitration in Europe and the United States, the rollout plan reflects AI’s goal of increasing the diversity of international arbitrators, Drahozal said. A recent survey by Berwin Leighton Paisner on diversity in international arbitration found that 92 percent of respondents wanted more information about new and less well-known arbitrators, and 81 percent wanted to give feedback about arbitrators at the end of cases. The 2015 Queen Mary Survey found one of the worst characteristics about of the process was “lack of insight into arbitrators’ efficiency,” and a majority of responses about improving the process listed providing more information about arbitrators, how they are appointed and their decision making.

Multinational treaties, contracts, investment and other cases can have significant stakes, both financially for the parties involved and for everyday citizens. Improving the information available about the arbitrators who decide the cases can improve the process for all involved.

“There are literally billions of dollars at stake in these cases,” Drahozal said. “In international arbitration, it’s not just about the money, but government regulations can be at stake as well. Having better information about the arbitrators deciding these cases will be very beneficial.”

University alumna's run-in with the law brought her to run her own animal law practice

"The then-Shawnee resident Katie Barnett was at home when the police knocked on her door. They asked to see her dog. She was scared, but she was also pretty sure she hadn't broken the law.

...

Retired law professor William Westerbeke, who taught Barnett during her time at the University, said animal law is something of a novelty interest among law students. Although it’s possible to start a specialty practice, few people are able to carve a niche for themselves as Barnett has.

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