Still Trying To Track Down Who Controls Patent Used Against Reddit, Digg, Fark, Slashdot & TechCrunch
from the making-progress dept
We wondered if the enterprising folks at Reddit might be able to dig out some more info, and they took up the challenge. Unfortunately, so far, all they've been able to do is suss out a few more shell companies -- and lawyers representing them -- but no clear info about who's really pulling the strings here. You can read through that long comment thread, but for a quick summary, the original inventors of the patent, Eileen C. Shapiro and Steven J. Mintz, may or may not still have some association with it. Eileen refuses to comment, saying she was "under NDA" on the matter.
However, others did note that among the pair's other patents are two (7,725,347 and 7,184,968) that are both being used in another lawsuit, this one filed by "Blackstone River LLC" against eHarmony, Match.com, Plentyoffish and a few other online dating sites.
Meanwhile, the original assignee for the patent, NewsGems LLC (which was apparently owned by Mintz), later assigned the patent to another operation, Kolomoki Mounds LLC. Separately, filed with this lawsuit is the statement of interested parties, which lists Kolomoki Mounds LLC, Gooseberry Natural Resources LLC and a third company Transmogrification Security AG LLC.
Separately, as we had already known originally, the parent company of Gooseberry is Vertigo Holdings LLC. It turns out that Vertigo Holdings also is the parent company of Blackstone River LLC -- the same company we mentioned above using two other patents by the same inventors to sue a bunch of dating sites. Hmm.
One of the Reddit comments also lists two other "sibling" companies allegedly owned by Vertigo: Fowler Woods LLC and Wolf Run Hollow LLC. Fowler Woods made some news last year for suing a ton of online radio offerings for patent infringement, including Pandora and Slacker, as well as a bunch of media sites, including the Huffington Post, Glam Media and AH Belo -- who is also one of the companies sued in this case that we've been discussing. The patent in question (6,351,736) in that lawsuit was not a Shapiro/Mintz invention, but by some others. Meanwhile, Wolf Run Hollow has been suing a ton of banks and credit unions over a different patent (6,115,817), which claims to broadly cover sending secure messages over an insecure network (no, seriously). Wolf Run Hollow appears to have been created by Vertigo.
Unfortunately, that's about where the sleuthing runs out... and it really doesn't tell us that much. We already knew that Vertigo was the parent company, and who owns/runs Vertigo is secret. We did learn that another company owned by Vertigo is using more patents from the same inventors to sue more companies, but that's about it. Either way, as a basic exercise, it certainly teaches you a fair amount about the sneaky and hidden nature of how patent trolls operate, with layer upon layer of shell companies, changing patent assignments and licenses, all of which hide whoever is actually pulling the strings. It really does make you wonder how this kind of thing does anything whatsoever to improve innovation.