Some consider him the country's greatest inventor since Thomas Edison. He holds more than 550 patents. MIT gives out a $500,000 award that bares his name to an outstanding inventor every year. There is even a center named after him at the Smithsonian Institute. For many, Jerome Lemelson, who died in 1997, seems to embody the innovative spirit of America.
But his is not an unblemished legacy. There is another side to Lemelson, one that his foundation tries to downplay. Reaping more than $1.3 billion through licensing fees from more than 900 U.S. companies since the mid-20th century, Lemelson is a tyrant in the eyes of corporate America. He is considered the godfather of patent trolling and the most flagrant exploiter of the U.S. patent system in history.
"You can see what somebody might figure out," Jenner says. "If they keep filing continuation applications, they would have overlapping patents issuing, each of which would have its own 17-year term that would extend out for a long time. And Lemelson did that so the patent chain extended out virtually indefinitely."
This method allowed Lemelson to retain the rights to his patents for more than
"It is always good to see a patent opinion from the Federal Circuit that makes sense from a legal perspective, a business perspective and a policy perspective," says Blair Jacobs, a partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan in Washington, D.C., who represents Cascade Corp. in the Phoenix case. "This ruling was truthfully the coming together of the retailers and the combining of resources, which lead to the ultimate challenge and the ultimate success."
As a result of the ruling, companies now can use prosecution laches in cases where a patent troll is abusing the patent system.