Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Toll of the Patent Troll
The Wall Street Journal has a great article about Patent Trolls and the Toll the cost on an innocent economy. Here's the excellent WSJ Article: America’s Biggest Filer of Patent Suits Wants You to Know It Invented Shipping Notification, By RUTH SIMON and LORETTA CHAO, Updated Oct. 27, 2016 1:11 p.m. ET.
Small(er) companies are targeted by a non-practicing entity (NPE), sometimes ungraciously referred to as a Patent Troll. IPZine previously discussed Patent Trolls in their various forms. Efforts to kill the trolls, or at least send them back under the bridge have moved forward with mixed success. In the US, the court costs have been paid by both parties historically, so winning in court, might still be losing. It might be better to simply pay the fees that would go to lawyers and be 100% certain of the outcome. A court ruling in 2014 has shifted this court cost dilemma. (See Wikipedia article on Patent Trolls.)
Imagine a portfolio of patents related to predictive arrival. That is, when will a product, person or thing arrive. The patent portfolio has 60 some patents with about half still active. That affects almost every business concept from shipping, manufacturing, service and more. It certainly hits on most of the activities that occur on the internet as well. Airlines, shippers, buses, and school buses -- government and private -- have fallen prey to the transit NPE.
So a small(er) business, attempting to do business, gets suddenly clobbered by legal notices and maybe even law suits. WHAT!!!??? The company probably has no patent attorney, so they scramble to find one. The patent attorney advises, at say $500 per hour, on the options and the potential costs. Litigation will cost $250,000, unless you lose; then it gets expensive!.
So, what's a small firm to do? This fight is like taking a pocket knife to a gun fight. Might be better to pay some fee, say $25,000-$50,000 and possibly a licensing fee (say a small % of sales), then to risk the bankrupting if the business.
All agreements are confidential, so it is hard to see who paid what licensing fees, and how much. The big shippers of FedEx and UPS have, apparently, full licensing for them and their clients. So a small company that uses their services, and only their services (of shipping and notification), might be in the clear.
The big NPE in this Simon & Chao article is Shipping & Transit LLC. About 10 years ago, the company tried to do a product for buses and shipping (Bus Stop and ArrivalStar). But neither worked out. So now Shipping and Transit sit around suing companies.
Not a single law suit has gone the distance. Consequently, none of the patents have been really tested. This is interesting since many of the patent claims are rather obvious and arrival/queuing goes back 50-100 years.
It seems like some type of a class action suit would be possible and force the issue against the NPE. The secret to the success of the Patent Troll, however, is to pick off the prey a few small targets at a time. Then, those victims who survive, are signed into an iron-clad agreement that cannot be breached under penalty of death. The airlines, FedEx and UPS are not talking, but what an interesting conversation that would be.
The Jones gang of Shipping & Transit, way back in the day (circa Y2K) of ArrivalStar were ruthless. Doesn’t seem like much has changed…
Keywords: NPE, Patent Troll, licensing, PLA, patent licensing agreement, economic development,