Tuesday, 7 February 2017

CourtListener: what can it offer?

The easy part of intellectual property analytics is the bit that deals with registered rights in patents, trade marks, designs, utility models and plant varieties: national and regional intellectual property offices keep official records that provide easy-to-access data concerning the nature of the right itself, its ownership [though accuracy and currency of ownership data are always a problem, which is why ORoPO is so important], validity and -- in many jurisdictions -- key elements of its post-grant history such as assignments, security interests, the grant of licences of right and compulsory licences and post-grant amendments.

The difficult part of analytics comes when you want to find out what has happened to a specific patent or other registered right post-grant, in terms of significant litigation that might have a bearing on its value, on its strategic importance within its sector, or on its proprietor's prospects of profit.  This is where case law databases can be of particular value.  While they can only reflect the outcome of disputes that get to court -- and therefore give little clue as to cases where a negotiated settlement is agreed or where a plaintiff simply throws in the towel long before the litigation reaches the courtroom -- they can provide valuable pointers not only as to the strength or utility of an IP right but also as to how its owner and the owner's competitors behave when facing each other before a judge.

Our attention has recently been drawn to CourtListener, which describes itself as 
" ... a free legal research website containing millions of legal opinions from federal and state courts. With CourtListener, lawyers, journalists, academics, and the public can research an important case, stay up to date with new opinions as they are filed, or do deep analysis using our raw data".
CourtListener is sponsored by the non-profit Free Law Project, which
"... seeks to provide free access to primary legal materials, develop legal research tools, and support academic research on legal corpora ..." [for the benefit of non-scholars, 'corpora' is the correct form of the Latin word 'corpus' a body].
The search box that you meet when you click through to CourtListener is headed by the legend "Search millions of opinions by case name, topic, or citation. 420 Jurisdictions". This sounds like unbelievably wide coverage, since there are only around 200 countries in the world.  However, having searched in vain for some of our favourite patent rulings in various European countries, it dawned on us that the 420 jurisdictions in question were all within the ambit of the United States court system, which embraces a vast swathe of state tribunals in addition to the federal courts which will be so familiar to many of our non-United States readers.  

Given the so-far unparalleled importance of the highly productive and heavily used US courts, CourtListener will inevitably prove to be a useful tool in the hands of anyone digging down in the course of due diligence in order to see what can be found out about an IP-rich takeover target; such relevant items as employment disputes with inventive employees, for example, should show up here. So, while CourtListener may not have the requirements of the intellectual property community in mind, it can still provide some valuable assistance in helping to feed the sector's voracious appetite for information.

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