If you have been following the ongoing patent troll saga that has been playing out in courts across the country over the past few years, you have seen that the tension is escalating in every regard, especially in the battle between trolls and startups.
One of the most intriguing cases recently in courts was Lumen View Technology LLC v FindTheBest.com. The case was interesting in many regards, especially FindTheBest’s contention that Lumen was guilty of extortion and racketeering.
The case centered on a technology patent held by Lumen, which covered “a system and method for facilitating bilateral and multilateral decision-making.” Lumen sent a letter to FindTheBest, a website that offers data-driven comparisons across hundreds of topics, products and device categories, demanding $50,000 in payment for the alleged infringement. FindTheBest elected not to pay the fee, opting instead to fight it out in court. And it looks like that was the right decision.
Judge Denise Cote ruled that the patent infringement suit was invalid, and further ruled that the patent itself was invalid. She stated in her ruling that nothing in the patent “evinces an inventive idea beyond the idea of the patent holder to be the first to patent the computerization of a fundamental process that has occurred all through human history.”
The patent troll business model is predicated on sending threatening letters to small companies, hoping that they will roll over and pay up rather than spend money to go to court. But the founder of FindTheBest, Kevin O’Connor, was a poor target for a troll to pick as he has a considerable personal fortune after selling a previous startup to Google for over $3 billion. He used his own money to fight Lumen, successfully getting a gag order overturned and going on the offensive, accusing Lumen of extortion and racketeering.
In the end, the judge’s decision that the Lumen patent represented no inventive idea is a big one. The quality of the patents held by many patent trolls are weak to begin with, and they are able to monetize these patents by threats alone. This could serve as a wake-up call to many trolls, and a sign to start-ups that fighting back is a valid option.
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