It is widely acknowledged that a patent troll is a pet peeve of all entrepreneurs. That’s why we want to give you all the essential tips to deal with those ugly goblins. But before we start let’s remind what exactly a patent troll is.
In the Scandinavian folklore, a troll is an evil character who ambushes his prey for ransom. Well, that’s accurate. A patent troll can be a person or companies that misuse patents as a business strategy. That means, he obtains the patents being sold at auctions by bankrupt companies attempting to liquidate their assets, or by doing just enough research to prove they he had the idea first. They can then launch lawsuits against infringing companies, or simply hold the patent without planning to exploit the idea in an attempt to keep other companies productivity at a standstill.
Now that we know more about these annoying persons, let’s see what you should do if you have to face with one of them.
Keep calm, every problem has a solution
We agree, this is not the easiest part. Being on that side when you are beyond reproach can be upsetting, no one can blame you. But before you pull the trigger, you need to take a deep breath to think straight. Keep in mind that most troll demands will go away even before a suit is filed. In fact, many companies resolved the threat by doing nothing.
But you need to take a look at the patent before and review the lawsuit as quickly as possible to determine if your company is infringing the patent. If you can form a reasonable belief that your company is not infringing, then don’t settle and throw the demand away without fearing what might happen next. Patent troll is mainly out for quick cash and not for your patent. But he might have other reasons for targeting you : you seem to be an easy target or he is using your money to go after someone bigger… But you can be sure that few actually want to go to trial.
Do some research on the patent AND the people
If the patentee is persistent, you have the possibility to check out who is holding the patent, who represents them, or if they have been involved in other litigation. The more information you get the better you will be able to control the situation. Who is behind the suit can matter as much as the patent they hold? So dig through documents, court dockets, and websites to find out everything you can about the people behind the lawsuit.
If they’ve sued before, find out how the story ended, whom the decision makers are, whether they are involved in other businesses subject to countersuit. Don’t be shy and call up other targets or their lawyers. This is the best way to get some more leverage in fighting back.
Play the bad cop
It’s time to make your troll sweat by asking very specific questions about the lawsuit. Ask about the patent, the parties involved. What is the economic interest? Claim detailed explanations regarding how your company supposedly infringes the patent. Finish him off by demanding a claim chart with an explanation of all the terms. He will feel trapped and discouraged for sure.
Put him under the spotlight
Trolls are like a vampire, they don’t like being in the light. They just want your money but definitely don’t want publicity.
Deep down, they are still humans. They might be embarrassed by their actions and afraid of shame. Then go and give a distinct clear bawl. Don’t be afraid of being a « pot stirrer ». Write press release, blog posts and don’t disregard the power of social media. The important thing is to make your story known. It will help you inhibit the troll but also gather support.
Find your allies
There’s a very good odds that you are not the only person being targeted. If this is the case, then you can team up with other companies who are also being sued by the same patent troll. You can reach out to the companies and formed a joint defense agreement.
As said before reach out to companies facing the same patent troll then you can pull together resources, information, and even split costs of the lawsuit. In other words, instead of fighting this troll alone, you’re battling them with an army.
The more people you have behind you, the stronger you are. As the old saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
In order to prevent this kind of situation don’t be an easy target. Be careful regarding what you release, always require website visitors to register before giving them access to more detailed information, and make sure you have everything legally documented. In 2015, it has been estimated that patent trolls cost the economy $29 billion a year. But 2016 is not over yet. So if you never had to face a patent troll before, be like scouts. Be prepared.