When it comes to litigation, parties have got to pay their own way. It's just the way we do things here -- it's called the American Rule for a reason. But all rules come with exceptions. The American Rule can be broken and attorney's fees awarded, in order to protect the public interest, to punish parties who refuse to settle, or simply to increase a law's effectiveness.
Take the Patent Act. The Act's fee-shifting provisions allow an award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party in exceptional cases. Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling last year, "exceptional" has become a bit more common.