In the software community, small businesses and innovative startups are far too familiar with patent trolls and their unscrupulous business model. Patent trolls are entities that don’t innovate, create, or otherwise contribute to our country’s growth. Instead they wield overly broad, never-should-have-been-issued patents to threaten litigation and extort settlement payments.
When targeted by a patent troll, small businesses often find themselves behind an eight ball, wondering what, if anything, can be done to prevent further abuses. Fortunately, five victims of 911 Notify, a notorious patent troll, are speaking out to share their stories and urge Congress to swiftly enact comprehensive patent reform legislation.
911 Notify’s patent covers the idea of notifying friends and family that there is an emergency and someone has called for help. This patent is overbroad, is not novel, and should not have been issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office in the early 2000s. This notification technology is so obvious, many of the companies sued have used it to make their communities safer for decades.
Gulfstream Telematics LLC (CO), LifeLine Response (IL), MobileTREC Corp. (CA), CarShield Services Inc. (CA), and ICEdot (OK) are small and medium sized businesses, connecting seniors, children, and others in the community to first responders and emergency contacts in the event of an accident or other life-threatening event. Their products are literally making our communities safer and saving lives, yet they are at the mercy of a patent troll seeking to turn a quick profit. This is bad for business, but more importantly bad for people like you and me who depend on these products for safety and peace of mind.
One 911 Notify victim, CarShield, is a California based startup that makes a device to monitor and alert emergency contacts of an accident, breakdown, or theft. CarShield, sued in 2014, contacted the Alliances’ Patent Troll Defense Network for help. The Alliance connected CarShield with Brooklyn Law School’s BLIP Clinic, which took on their case free of charge. Having a free legal defense changed the troll’s calculus and 911 Notify eventually dropped the case against CarShield.
While CarShield's case is largely a victory, unfortunately, 911 Notify and its weak patent live on. Since 2013, the troll has sued more than 40 companies, ten of which were sued in July 2015 alone. These lawsuits should serve as a timely reminder to Congress that comprehensive patent reform is needed now more than ever. All trolls are harming innovation and growth, but 911 Notify's actions are particularly egregious given its targets - companies literally enhancing public safety. No Supreme Court decision, no Federal Trade Commission enforcement action, or other factor has deterred this troll or others like it. Congress must act now to curb frivolous litigation and protect job creators and their innovations.
Comments or questions? Email the Policy team: Policy@appalliance.org