"In monetary terms, the Supreme Court case being heard next Wednesday — pitting online retail giant eBay Inc. against its left-in-the-dust competitor MercExchange — might seem trivial. MercExchange, which won the original suit in 2003, by proving to a Virginia jury that eBay’s ‘Buy it Now‘ direct purchase feature had infringed on a 1994 patent filed by its founder Thomas Woolston, received $29.5 million in compensatory damages — a mere rounding error measured against eBay’s $4.5 billion in revenues last year. Consider that BlackBerry device manufacturer Research In Motion just agreed to pay $612.5 million to end its own long-running legal battle with Network Technology Partners (NTP).
"But don’t be fooled by the small stakes in eBay’s appeal. By taking its case to the highest court in the land, the company is looking to even a playing field that many of its supporters say currently favors the plaintiff in almost every patent dispute. With patent reform still trudging through Congress [PDF link], only a clear signal from the Supreme Court can keep a $612.5 million settlement from becoming the norm — now that plaintiffs’ patent attorneys have tasted blood.
"’If eBay is successful, patent trolls will have one less weapon to use against legitimate firms,’" says University of Chicago law professor Douglas Lichtman, one of 52 legal scholars who have signed a friend of the court brief supporting eBay’s position."
Patent trolls? Yes, this phrase is now a recognized epithet!