Earlier this week, Ars Technica profiled a particularly atrocious group of patent trolls who are demanding payments from small businesses for committing the egregious, shameful act of... scanning documents to email? Yes, the latest in a string of absurd patent-related stories involves the everyday act of using a networked scanner.
In typical patent troll style, these shell companies (with names like AdzPro, FanPar, and HunLos) are asking businesses and users for a few thousand dollars—far less than what litigation would cost—as a licensing fee for using this basic technology. Unwilling or unable to lawyer up, most choose the more convenient route of settling—most, except Steven Vicinanza, who decided to fight back. Though he won his case in court against these "Project Paperless" trolls, the patents are still out there. Further abuse led someone to create the "Stop Project Paperless" project, which has a wealth of information on the trolls and their patents.
Though 2012 brought us some much needed movement toward patent reform, it is clear that 2013 promises to provide many of the same patent troll follies of which we've already grown tired.
We're particularly concerned about the growing trend of trolls targeting end users. Over the past few years, we saw Lodsys threaten and sue a number of app developers for using technologies provided that companies like Apple and Google require their app developers to use. More recently, a patent troll called Innovatio has been suing restaurants, hotels, and companies for using WiFi. Yes, that’s right. WiFi.
Innocent third parties need to be protected from frivolous patent troll threats and lawsuits. Certain systemic reforms—like fee shifting or an innocent infringer defense—we have proposed in our Defend Innovation campaign. We look forward to these kinds of real reform and a day when more defendants like Mr. Vicinanza are in a position to fight back.