Jury trials, statistically speaking, are usually a good thing for patent owners. But as patent litigation becomes ever more complex, and the technology underlying the patents ever more mind-boggling, what happens if the case in question goes right over the jurors' heads?
Recently, we've seen two cases-in-point: high-profile cases in which the jury had to have each technical term or concept explained to them, slowing down testimony considerably (Oracle and Google); or in which the judge deemed the case too complicated from the start and ordered the parties to reduce their number of claims against one another (Apple and Samsung).
In the Oracle-Google lawsuit, the jury includes a plumber, a postal worker, a nurse, a store designer for GAP, a retired photographer and a city bus driver. During the testimony of Eric Schmidt, Google's former CEO, technical terms were translated for the benefit of the jurors (and perhaps the judge as well). Even with that translation, though, doubt remains about whether the jury could understand the patented technology and alleged infringement well enough to give an informed and unbiased decision and determine damages - which will happen in the next two trials in the case.
In the case of Apple and Samsung, the judge first ordered the litigants to scale back the claims in their epic battle, which covers a total of sixteen patents, six trademarks, five "trade dress" claims and an antitrust case - and then ordered them to narrow their claims even more after each filed their amended complaints.
“I think that’s cruel and unusual punishment to a jury, so I’m not willing to do it,” said Judge Lucy Koh, referring to the monumental task of having a jury try to understand the case as originally filed.
Luckily for potential jurors everywhere, most patent suits settle out of court. But for those that don't, we will probably see more such conundrums as attorneys attempt to make their case to the technologically-challenged in as little technobabble as possible - but without diluting the issues at hand.
It's true that your average layperson on a jury is likely ill-equipped to grasp the technical details and other important subtleties in patent law cases. Unfortunately, it's probably too much of a stretch to hope for any other result. A jury composed of patent law experts just doesn't seem to be in the offing.