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Patent trolls target White Castle
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Patent trolls target White Castle

Patent trolls go after White Castle, leaving the family-run business feeling “gun-shy”

In 1921, White Castle first opened its doors. Today, nearly 10,000 team members work in 406 restaurant locations across 12 states to provide chain’s famous “sliders.” The fast food giant remains a family-owned business committed to its customers with success driven by the principle that good business, great food and responsible citizenship should come as a package.

White Castle knows first-hand that the restaurant industry is an incredibly competitive industry. The company is always seeking new and innovative ways to provide more value to our customers.  Unfortunately, there is an increasing threat to White Castle and others who are providing customers with the best experience, and that is patent trolls. The negative term “patent trolls” stands for companies that purchase groups of patents without an intent to market a product. The companies then target other businesses with lawsuits alleging infringement of the patents they bought.

According to Jamie Richardson, vice president, corporate relations at White Castle, never thought his company would be the target of patent trolls. “We never expected we’d encounter something like this,” Richardson, told Legal News Wire.

It began last year, when the company received a letter about a QR code it had put on some of its packaging as a promotional tool. Richardson said next thing you know, the company had a letter demanding large amounts of money, saying they were encouraging our customers to infringe on this company’s property rights. Then, another letter came telling White Castle that it was violating a patent by giving out a link to a news story in an email correspondence to customers.

 “They basically said we’re a part of this lawsuit. We weren’t even given an option,” he said. “Talk about incredibly aggressive.”

According to Richardson, the letters, were all very difficult to decipher. “They make it really difficult to even understand the nature of the claim — to the point you can’t tell if it’s legitimate or not,” he said.

Not only have the incidents been a hit to the company’s budget, but they’ve also forced it to reevaluate its marketing strategies.  “We’re a family-owned business. We don’t have the global resources that some companies do. So it’s really slowed us down. We’re definitely a lot more reluctant to try new technology,” said Richardson.

Back in November, Richardson testified on behalf of the National Restaurant Association at a hearing before the U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation titled, “The Impact of Patent Assertion Entities on Innovation and Economy.”

While Richardson said White Castle supports U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s Innovation Act, he noted his company also has a “deep reverence” for intellectual property rights.

“Hopefully, lawmakers can get to the core issues without being burdensome to innovators and inventors,” he commented. “We recognize there is a delicate balance, but one thing we know is that these trolls are hiding under a bridge. Congress really needs to put the burden of proof back on these organizations that, we think, are being irresponsible.”

For more on patent troll news, check out these articles:

Cisco reaches $2.7 million deal with Wi-Fi patent troll

Apple pushes back against patent troll litigation

Department of Justice closes Samsung patent probe

Attorneys general, general counsel hold frank discussion on patent trolls, Part 1

Contributing Author

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Amanda Ciccatelli

Amanda G. Ciccatelli is a Contributing Writer for InsideCounsel, where she covers the patent litigation space. Amanda earned a B.A. in Communications and Journalism from...

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