BlackBerry maker Research in Motion's legal fight with tiny patent-holding firm NTP has BlackBerry fans worried that the dispute might cause the popular e-mail service to be temporarily shut down in the USA. But that legal fight is far from unique.
Many of tech's biggest players — from eBay to Microsoft — are being sued by little companies seeking patent settlements.
Often, lawsuits are brought by inventors with older patents who hope to capitalize on profitable products, says Kirkland & Ellis intellectual property lawyer David Callahan, who successfully defended Amazon.com in a patent lawsuit. Under U.S. patent law, a company can be guilty of infringement even if it didn't know about a patent.
These little firms are sometimes called "patent-trolls," because they allegedly "troll" for big companies to sue. Some claims are so broad that "there's not a very close relationship between what the patentee said they invented and what they actually invented," Callahan says. "People feel exploited."
[IPBiz note: NTP is a patent troll in the USAToday account, as is presumably MercExchange.]
On H.R. 2795 and patent reform:
Patent laws have been altered to prevent such tweaks, which became known as "submarine patents" because of their ability to suddenly surface. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, introduced a bill last year to make further reforms, but it's stalled, in part because small inventors oppose it.