Enlarge / The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. (credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Five years ago this month, the first "inter partes review" began, a process laid out in the America Invents Act, which was passed in 2011. In a piece of legislation that was timid in its scope, the IPR process gave some hope to those in the tech sector who hoped to reduce the scourge of so-called "patent trolls."

Now that IPRs are seeing their five-year anniversary, it's a good time to take stock of the process. That's especially true since the Supreme Court will take a close look at IPRs when it hears Oil States Energy Services v. Greene's Energy Group, a case that challenges the constitutional basis of IPRs.

During the five years of its existence, the IPR process has become basically a cheaper, faster way of resolving patent disputes. It's similar to court, in that a typical case involves an accused infringer trying to prove that one or more patents being used against it are invalid, while the patent owner tries to make the case that her patents are worthy. A fully drawn-out IPR process culminates in a kind of trial, in which witnesses are questioned before the panel of judges.

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