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06.29.15

Patent Trolls in the Post-Alice World

Posted in Patents at 2:06 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: A round-up of news about patent trolls in the United States, some of whom are are doing well and some of them not as well

Lawyers and other patent-centric parasites based in the unofficial home of patent trolls, the state of Texas, are very much upset with Alice — a case which essentially invalidates many of the patents they use for extortion. We covered this before and explained the reasons for it. Their livelihood is in jeopardy because they can’t quite prey on life savings of individuals and modest (at best) bank accounts of various startups around the US. “East Texas Federal Judge Sets Rules for Post-’Alice’ World,” says one article. We recently showed how patent practitioners in Texas were lobbying hard to keep the patent trolls going (antagonising patent reform), with their blackmail (as a ‘business’) flourishing. Using Lex Machina’s figures, Matt Levy very recently shared some statistics about Texas, and the Eastern District of Texas in particular. To quote: “The Eastern District of Texas had over 1,400 patent cases filed last year, and over 1,000 patent cases have been filed there in the first half of 2015. (Source: Lex Machina) Just last month (May), out of the 418 lawsuits filed, 295 were filed in Marshall, Texas, a town with a population of just under 24,000. For comparison, there were only 199 patent lawsuits filed in total in May 2014.”

“Apple sued the biggest Android distributor (Samsung) and Google’s/Android’s favourite child (Motorola), but then again so did Microsoft.”BlackBerry, which is rumoured to be exploring Android as the only route forward (not just one among several routes) was looking like an anti-Android troll in the making until not so long ago, but according to this analysis of “BlackBerry’s Licensing Revenue” (meaning patents): “There was little to no IP licensing done in the recent past.”

Perhaps BlackBerry is no longer a threat like Nokia, which Microsoft definitely turned into an anti-Android patent troll (of the bigger kind).

Speaking of trolls, Joe Mullin, a trolls expert, says that a “[p]atent troll wins $30M verdict against Sprint, has more trials on the way”. This story, for a change, didn’t develop in Texas. To quote Mullin, “Nebraska jury has ordered Sprint to pay $30 million to Prism Technologies, a patent-holding company that has sued the five largest cell phone carriers.

“Tuesday’s verdict (PDF) comes at a time when Congress is debating, for the second time in recent years, a bill to rein in companies like Prism, often referred to as “patent trolls.”

“Prism Technologies was founded as a successor to Prism Resources, an operating company that existed from 1991 to 2001 according to an online biography of co-founder Richard Gregg, who testified at trial. The company is now focused solely on licensing and litigation, and it has continued to get more patents.”

A week ago, citing this article from Ina Fried, BoingBoing asked, “Is patent trolling going out of style?”

That is indeed the case based on the booster of Microsoft and longtime promoter of Microsoft’s attacks (with patents) on GNU/Linux (Ina Fried did a lot of this while still at CNET/CBS). Fried writes: “For a while it seemed the mobile industry was deteriorating into a battle over who had the best patents — and the best patent lawyers.

“Apple was suing Samsung, Motorola was suing Microsoft and Google was in everyone’s cross hairs. And there were a lot more cases that weren’t making headlines.”

Apple sued the biggest Android distributor (Samsung) and Google’s/Android’s favourite child (Motorola), but then again so did Microsoft. The latter aggressor sued both companies and recently pressured the former to become a vassal of Microsoft in exchange for settlement. Microsoft has essentially itself become more like a patent troll, but since it refuses to let its own platform go (despite massive losses), it does not yet qualify, not as per the textbook definition of “patent troll”.

“Unified Patents,” said this one report from the other day, “works to deter nonpracticing entities from asserting weak patents” (whatever “weak” means).

When will Microsoft be recognised for what it really has become? When will European authorities react in lieu with their promise and stop Nokia from essentially becoming a European patent troll? Will BlackBerry ever sell its patents or itself become a patent troll? And in light of Apple‘s latest (over)hyped patent [1, 2, 3, 4, 5], will more people care to realise that Apple is not an innovator but an aggressor (using patents for lawsuits and imtmidation, not highlight any significant breakthroughs)? Also mind Amazon‘s latest Orwellian patent, which hardly comes across as anything that a 5-year-old wouldn’t have managed to ‘invent’.

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