Christopher B. Seaman
Intellectual Property (IP) is sometimes viewed as a separate world from the rest of law, where only those with science or engineering backgrounds are accepted. For Professor Chris Seaman, however, the more crucial skills for an IP litigator are the ability to work with expert witnesses, juggle multi-forum and multi-party actions, and critically evaluate potential remedies—in short, the same skills used by attorneys in other complex litigation practices.
Although Professor Seaman has long maintained an interest in science and technology, his intention upon leaving law school was to go into complex litigation work. Serendipitously, after a federal clerkship, he was offered a chance to work in the intellectual property litigation section of Sidley Austin LLP. He found he enjoyed both the high-level litigation challenges and the “narrow but deep” slices of technology that he encountered in his practice.
Professor Seaman put his IP litigation experience to scholarly use. His first major IP article, Reconsidering the Georgia-Pacific Standard for Reasonable Royalty Patent Damages, 2010 BYU Law Rev. 1661, critiques the now-dominant reasonable royalty method of calculating damages in patent infringement cases decided by juries. Instead of the current fifteen factor Georgia Pacific test, Professor Seaman relies on economic and negotiation theory to propose that infringers should be liable only for the costs of adopting and implementing a non-infringing substitute technology, plus any lost benefits related to the substitute’s use.
Another paper, Willful Patent Infringement and Enhanced Damages After In re Seagate: An Empirical Study, 97 Iowa L. Rev. 417 (2012), again delves into damages for infringement. This article, an earlier version of which won a Stanford-Samsung Prize in 2010 for outstanding papers related to patent remedies, explores the impact of a recent Federal Circuit decision that raised the standard governing willful infringement of a patent. A defendant who is found to have willfully infringed a patent can be liable for up to triple damages, so this decision was seen by scholars as an attempt by the court to reign in large damage awards. To gauge the Seagate decision’s actual impact, Professor Seaman conducted an empirical study of how trial courts actually applied this new rule. Contrary to expectations, the study found that there were only about 10% fewer willful infringement findings in the three years immediately following the decisions.
Finally in his most recent article, Standard of Proofs in Civil Litigation: An Experiment from Patent Law, Harvard Journal of Law and Technology (forthcoming 2013), Professor Seaman and a co-author tackle a question about the effectiveness of standards of proof. Again utilizing an empirical approach, Professor Seaman compares the results of an experiment on mock jurors who were given different burdens of proof in determining whether a hypothetical patent should be found invalid. Somewhat surprisingly, the study’s results show that mock jurors who were given a modified “clear and convincing” standard as recently mandated by the Supreme Court in a 2011 decision found the patent invalid at statistically indistinguishable rates from mock jurors who received a lower “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Given the importance of standards of proof in both criminal and civil litigation, this finding calls for further investigation of this pillar of the legal system.
In the future, this prolific young scholar has set his sights on a number of different topics, including procedural complexities and challenges of litigating patents in multiple forums, the decision- making process of jurors in complex litigation, and an exploration of problems arising from joint ownership of patents.