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The rumor among Gerald Hosier’s fellow lawyers is that he’s so rich he owns a fleet of five jets — speculation Hosier says is over the top. “That’s an exaggeration,” he said. “I have three jets and two smaller planes. One of the jets is quite expensive, the second is moderately expensive and the third, a Czechoslovakian fighter jet, is not very expensive.” Hosier is the king of lawyers who make their living suing corporations to enforce patents. And he’s made a pile of cash doing it. While he refused to say how much money he’s made, by most estimates it’s at least $400 million. Last year alone Hosier raked in $40 million, according to Forbes Magazine, which recently listed him as the country’s top-earning attorney. “I’m not hurting,” Hosier acknowledged. The source of Hosier’s fortune is his long relationship with inventor Jerome Lemelson. In the world of patent enforcement, Hosier is Ginger Rogers to Lemelson’s Fred Astaire — consummate dance partners who will be forever linked. Together they made a fortune suing corporate America for infringement. Hosier began representing Lemelson in 1988, and they have pulled in more than a billion dollars in gross licensing revenues. The litigator’s fortunes soared when he began enforcing Lemelson’s patents on machine vision and bar code technologies. Companies hit with infringement suits contend that Lemelson manipulated the patent system, continuously revising his applications to cover products as they came on the market. In fact, his patents were dubbed submarine patents because of their decades-long submergence in the PTO. Lemelson submitted his original application on machine vision in the 1950s. While the first patent on the technology issued in 1963, additional patents weren’t granted until the 1980s when the technology was in widespread use. “The delay occurred because of the patent office, not because of Lemelson,” Hosier said. “This defense has been dismissed by every court that has addressed it.” As a result of court rulings in Lemelson’s favor, nearly 800 companies from the semiconductor, computer, electronics, telecommunications and auto industries have licensed his patents. Although the inventor died in 1997, his estate has continued litigating; 11 suits are pending against 500 defendants. Intel recently became the sole defendant in one of the suits after 25 other semiconductor companies settled. In perhaps the most crucial case, however, Lemelson is in the defendant’s seat. Cognex Corp., a manufacturer of machine vision products sued Lemelson in 1998, seeking a ruling that the inventor’s patents were invalid and not infringed by Cognex or the users of its products. Eight manufacturers of bar code scanners led by Symbol Technologies Inc. filed a similar suit the following year. The Cognex and Symbol Technologies cases have been combined for pretrial discovery. To date, a federal court has rejected one argument by plaintiffs: that Lemelson delayed filing patent claims to the detriment of others and therefore should not be able to claim infringement. The plaintiffs appealed the issue to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which is expected to hear arguments in the matter this fall. “If the manufacturers pursue their lawsuits and are successful it would relieve hundreds of companies from the burden of having to deal with this,” said Jesse Jenner, a partner at New York’s Fish & Neave who is representing the manufacturers. And that could make adding a sixth plane to Hosier’s fleet a bit harder. “We’ve had lots of litigation but no one has taken [a case] to trial,” he said. “Now there may be one coming.”

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