Lawsuit Trolling and the Tech Industry
every new technology that sets the world on its ear, there is somebody
out there who thinks they can cash in on a questionably relevant
patent. The most recent example of this is Gibson, the manufacturer of
guitars launching a patent infringement lawsuit against Electronic
Arts, the maker of the Guitar Hero video game series. Electronic Arts
isn’t even making a Guitar with the claimed infringed patents,
it’s a freaking toy.
Beating successful technology companies with patent infringement lawsuits already has a pejorative term associated to it. Patent trolling the term used to refer to the milking successful companies by those claiming patent infringement. The lawsuit against Research in Motion by NTP incorporated that threatened blackberry e-mail service is the best known example of patent trolling. NTP isn’t even a technology company, NTP is just a holding company that buys patents from other companies that are going out of business. After settling with Research in Motion, NTP promptly files a lawsuit against Palm Inc. Anybody making a portable device that sends and receives e-mail could potentially be a future defendant. Google can expect to hear from NTP’s lawyers when smartphones using the android operating system launch by the end of 2008.
Patent trolling isn’t a development of the past few years. When the World Wide Web was gaining mass popularity in the mid 1990’s a company called Unisys launched lawsuits against any manufacturer of software that could open or save a file in the GIF graphic format. Unisys owned the patent for the compression algorithm used in the GIF format. Outrage followed and web site developers converted all the GIF’s over to JPEG’s
Like Unisys, SCO another fading flower of the tech industry went patent trolling when they could no longer make money from the products they developed. SCO at one time sold the Xenix a Unix based operating system originally developed by Microsoft. Long after Xenix fell out of favor with corporate IT departments because Linux became the most popular Unix based operating system for Intel based PC’s SCO filed lawsuits against every commercial vendor of Linux distributions. SCO didn’t stop there though lawsuits were filed against corporations that provide other products and services related to Linux. Even companies that use Linux based systems found themselves in court.
Patent trolling isn’t just limited to companies who’s best days are well behind them, even the two largest telephone companies in the United States are doing it too. Verizon and AT&T filed their own lawsuits against VOIP company Vonage. If these lawsuits have any merit then why do both AT&T and Verizon claim that they both hold the patent on routing phone calls over the Internet?
For the most part the companies that bring these lawsuits to court are generally more interested in getting other companies to pay settlements and to pay licensing fees, which doesn’t just cost technology companies millions of dollars it costs us as technology users in the form of higher prices for technology products and services. Judges need more power to dismiss lawsuits that don’t have merit and to make lawsuit trolling a justifiable reason to dismiss a lawsuit. In order to keep technology cheap and easily available civil litigation reform has to happen.