Reporting on patent disputes: Trolling for news?

By Ideas Matter

On the back of recent claims of ‘fake news’ in the political arena comes an interesting new report by the U.S. non-profit, The Center for Intellectual Property Understanding (CIPU) in New York, finding that news coverage of patent litigation is often one-sided, subjective and inflammatory, and commonly uses the term ‘patent troll’ despite the US Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) and even court findings that the term is ‘unhelpful’ and ‘prejudicial’.

The CIPU report, entitled “Patterns in Media Coverage of Patent Disputes,” reviewed a sample of 127 articles across 15 major print and online news publications that were published in 2016 and dealt with ‘patent infringement’.  Major news publications such The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the New York Times, and CNET were found to do the best job in reporting on the viewpoints of both sides in a patent dispute.  Tech publications were found to have the least balanced reporting, with more than half of their stories presenting only one side of a reported case.  42% of all articles found were opinion pieces.

The narrative of ‘patent trolls’ does pop up regularly in news and op-ed reporting of patent lawsuits—more than 13% of the time in the articles CIPU surveyed.  Ironically, perhaps, the term was widely used even in reporting on the FTC’s Study on Patent Assertion Entities, which found “the use of the term ‘patent troll’ is unhelpful because it invites pre-judgment about the societal impact of patent assertion activity without an understanding of the underlying business model that fuels such activity”.

These sorts of reporting practices, combined with the fact that much reporting on patent activity seems to be outsourced to third-party authors, leads the report’s author to conclude, “Trends in recent media coverage of patent disputes suggest that subjective or incomplete content may be fostering a narrow view of patents and holders.” 

To read the full report, click here.  For further information and news on this study, and on the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding, see their website, here