Patent and Contribution: Bringing the Quid Pro Quo into Ebay v. MercExchange

Elizabeth Pesses
11 Yale J.L. & Tech. 309

In eBay, Inc. v. MercExchange, L.L.C., the Supreme Court declared that an injunction granted to stop and prevent patent infringement is like any other injunction, and therefore should only issue after consideration of traditional equitable factors. It is not yet clear whether this decision has truly changed existing patent law, but one thing is certain—injunctions are no longer viewed as a guaranteed remedy for patent infringement. One potential effect of eBay on the world of technology is on the value of patents. Much of the discussion of eBay has focused on the decision’s effect on patent owners who do not practice their patent. Without the threat of a guaranteed permanent injunction, these patent owners will have less bargaining power in licensing negotiations and might get less favorable licensing arrangements. This note discusses this potential change in patent value and its relation to one primary justification for patent law, the quid pro quo, which views the patent as an exchange between the inventor and the public: invention and disclosure in exchange for the right to exclude. In the post-eBay world, the fact that an injunction is no longer a guarantee may reduce the value of the right to exclude. This may create a disparity in the exchange—the inventor may receive less value from the public in the form of a patent while the public receives more from the invention and disclosure through the denial of an injunction. This note argues that eBay need not conflict with the quid pro quo exchange, and that, although current decisions relying on the Supreme Court’s opinion do not do so, courts can and should use eBay to better tailor the patent right to the value of the actual contribution of invention and disclosure.