The debate over reforming the U.S. patent system has been underway for years. While both sides argue about why Congress should or should not act, small companies, entrepreneurs, and innovators are being bullied, threatened, and blackmailed into paying thousands of dollars to patent trolls that provide no products or benefits to consumers or the public at large.
I started my business, LifeLine Response, to save lives and give families peace of mind. Designed to help people feel safe when walking alone, our app not only tracks a phone user, but it will also sound an alarm and call the police instantly if the user's thumb is removed from the screen. LifeLine Response is the missing tier in the 911 infrastructure, providing an innovative solution to a problem that every carrier in the U.S. could not solve.
Unfortunately, my ability to deliver life-saving technology to consumers is under threat. Along with more than 40 other public safety companies, I was sued by 911 Notify, a notorious patent troll.
I have come to Washington this week with other members of the United for Patent Reform coalition to ask Congress to reform our patent laws and prevent these shakedown artists from further undermining the system that made the United States the world’s most dynamic and innovative economy.
Patent trolls use broad, never-should-have-been-issued patents to threaten, intimidate, and extort businesses into paying licensing fees by promising a long and costly legal battle should the business refuse. Abusive patent enforcement threats and litigation distract innovators, chill investment, and waste extraordinary amounts of capital that could be used to build products and grow companies. For tech startups and app developers, responding to abusive patent trolls significantly harms growth and can bankrupt a business.
Despite assertions that recent Supreme Court decisions have adequately addressed frivolous and abusive patent litigation, 911 Notify is proof that patent trolls continue to harass small businesses with crippling litigation, including attacking companies that save lives.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office granted 911 Notify patent on the idea of notifying family, friends, and first responders that there is an emergency and someone has called for help. Instead of investing in innovative products and services, 911 Notify profits off of threats and coercion, using its patent like a bludgeon to tax our innovation, raise prices on our users, and jeopardize the future of our businesses.
I refuse to submit to 911 Notify’s frivolous demands and have been lucky enough to find pro-bono representation through the Patent Troll Defense Network. However, many other companies are not so lucky and are fighting insurmountable battles against vastly superior resources. The urge to settle instead of going through costly litigation is strong, but I urge my colleagues to stand up and fight and to let lawmakers know reform is needed.
Only broad and robust patent reform legislation can help protect innovators that make a difference from the extortionate business practices of patent trolls.
Cahill is the founder and CEO of LifeLine Response, a mobile public safety app.