X-plane Developer Sued By Patent Troll; Ponders Shuttering Business Or Defending

from the promoting-the-progress-of-destroying-a-business dept

We were just reporting on a hospital tech that declined to seek a patent for his creation, laughably stating that there are more important things than money (what a buffoon). He serves as a nice contrast to the wonderful world of patent trolls. One man is trying to help people and thinks that's more important than patents, while patent trolls are trying to leech off of producing entities and think that there is nothing more important than the patent (except perhaps the blood of small kittens or something). Often times they don't bother to produce anything, instead vampiring off of actual...you know...businesses.

Reader dfed alerts us to one such vampiric occasion, in which a non-producing entity patent troll is suing the developers of X-Plane, a rather innovative flight simulator. Uniloc has filed (pdf) for infringement on a patent, (6,857,067) for a "system and method are provided for preventing unauthorized access to electronic data stored on an electronic device." If the Uniloc name sounds familiar to you, you may remember when we wrote about it suing Minecraft (over the same patent) with such fervor that its lawyers couldn't be bothered to spell the game's name correctly. This patent was filed back in 2001, after, as X-Plane developer Laminar Research notes, several other software companies prior-arted all over this patent.
In 1988, FlexNet used a system to check a central server for permission to run a computer program. In 1989, Sassafras developed KeyServer, a computer program that checked with a central server for permission to run a program only if it had been purchased. In 1999, a program called “Clearcase” checked with a central server for permission to run a program only if it had been purchased. (Link here and instructions here.)
Laminar Research initially wrote a blog post on their site posing the same questions I imagine many victims of patent trolls have like whether they should be doing business in the United States. Such wonderful consequences our patent system produces. They were also initially seeking donations to fund their defense, which they were advised would cost roughly one and a half million dollars. Fortunately, because Uniloc is a patent troll, they also sued 9 other software developers and all the defendants are banding together to share the costs of defending themselves.

But that isn't the point. The point is that they shouldn't have to be in this position in the first place. For these developers to have to defend themselves in costly litigation against a company that can't be bothered to produce anything beyond a patent suit for something used years before its filing is a burden in direct conflict of the stated purpose for patents to begin with. I can't explain the silliness of this better than X-Plane's developer did on his site.
When I explained this to my Mom, she listened to my entire speech on Unilocs’ Lawsuit against me, my ideas on patent and litigation reforms, my thoughts on Uniloc and the lawyers representing them, and the total lawsuit cost of over $1,500,000, 3 years of stress to me and my wife, and the possible loss of a grandchild to her, and all she could stammer was “I don’t understand… what did you do that is WRONG?” All I could really answer was: “Well… I wrote a flight simulator for Android”.
And producing that software is supposed to cost the producer over a million dollars? What a joke.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), Sep 28th, 2012 @ 6:05pm

    Uniloc is going to have to sue operating system and software producers back into the 1960s, minimum. Nuts.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 6:48pm

    It still isn't a problem of the patent system - it's a problem of your legal system. The costs for "simple" litigation are too high, and companies such as uniloc are playing that issue. It's not about patents, patents are only the trigger position here. It could just as easily be falling over a crack in a sidewalk type lawsuits. The point is the legal system is so expensive, that most people settle rather than deal with the issue.

    Reforming patents doesn't fix the problem, it just makes it less obvious when dealing with patents. The real issue is legal system reform, and that ain't easy.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    arcan, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 6:51pm

    Re:

    assuming there are absolutely 0 problems with the patent system, then how did such a crappy patent get past the people screening for things that should not be patent-able?

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 6:59pm

    Re:

    When an entity can exist purely to sue companies which happen to encroach on patents which they have no intention of using, that indicates a problem with the patent system.

    You are right about the legal system as well. These trolls just sue and rely on the fact that the defense costs will be so exorbitant that settling looks attractive even if there is no infringement.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 7:17pm

    Re: Re:

    The thing is, if the legal system was streamlined and allowed simple response to these things, the threat cost of the lawsuit would not exist. Quite simple, trying to enforce an overbroad patent would not be an issue, because the cost to answer would be reasonable.

    It's a failing of the legal system and the costs invovled. Patent holders such as this are just performing a sort of arbitrage between the cost of legal action and the cost of settling. It means that the cost of legal action is too high, a failing of the legal system.

    It's easy to prove even for Techdirt people, because it's the same thing copyright holders do in trying to follow file sharing seeders. The costs of defending your actions in court are higher than paying the settlement. The US legal system makes this possible, because of the costs of legal action and defending yourself in court.

    Fix the legal system, and everything fixes itself.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    abc gum, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 7:37pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Fix the legal system, and everything fixes itself."

    lol .... oh, wait - you're serious?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Miff (profile), Sep 28th, 2012 @ 7:55pm

    I wonder if there's any money to be made in patent troll trolling: Offer to represent companies free of charge against patent trolls, hear the case in court, and convince the court to award massive fines... against the patent trolls with the money going to the defendant. Then the troll trollers take the money received as payment for the free defense.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 9:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    lol. You are ignorant! Seriously!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 28th, 2012 @ 11:53pm

    Uniloc is going to have a run for their money

    According to X-Plane creator's website he has joined a group of 9 defendants in the case with a split in the costs that he says he would have little problem paying. With that in mind, the more people Uniloc ends up suing, the easier it is to defend against them.

    Additionally, the X-Plane creator has also made a donation link available on his site for those who wish to contribute towards fighting the patent troll.

    Uniloc is going to have a similar legal cost without the benefit of splitting it 9 or 10 ways or anyone giving them any handouts. Keep it up Uniloc; you're a real winner.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Jan Bilek (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 12:44am

    cost of litigations

    I live in the Czech Republic and it's pretty common here that if you sue someone and you loose you have to pay their legal costs - it's considered fair and 'normal'. I hear that this is very unusual in the United States. Why? It seems to handle this problem reasonably well - and I don't mean just patent trolls but generally legal trolls, entities using high litigation costs as an extortion leverage.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 12:49am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And you are incredibly naive.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Richard (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 1:30am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Fix the legal system, and everything fixes itself.

    Fixing the legal system is necessary but not sufficient.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 1:37am

    it is a joke, just like the whole patent thing itself. until someone has the sense and grows the balls to use that sense, to change things, not just resisting but totally rebutting the moans and cries of 'foul' from the trolls, the whining will continue, the rip offs will continue and innovation will cease

     

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  14.  
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    FuzzyDuck, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 1:41am

    Re:

    It's not a one OR the other situation. BOTH the US patent system AND the US legal system are flawed.

    The US legal system is flawed in ways that you describe and indeed if being sued can be enough to bankrupt you and destroy 3 years of your life, even when innocent, then there simply is no justice.

    Even if the US legal system did work for justice, it would still be a problem that the government is handing out patent monopolies to certain companies based on such flimsy claims. They'd still be a tax on innovation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    haiku, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 2:38am

    Re: cost of litigations

    Ditto most other countries in Europe, Australasia, Africa etc.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    haiku, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 2:55am

    Modern economic terrorism

    1. Buy up patent troll businesses.
    2. Buy up all patents that come onto the market.
    3. Sue anybody and everybody - no matter how ridiculous.
    4. Drag out the cases for as long as possible, including appealing (and re-appealing) all lost cases.
    5. Sit back and wait for a couple of years.

    End result: zero innovation with a legal system tied in knots, all without bloodshed ... :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Charlie, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 3:14am

    Re: Patents v. law



    The patent system is a subset of the legal system. Every new patent is a new law with legal consequences for everybody. It's just that congress has deputized the PTO to make this class of laws.



    The number of laws on the books gets larger all the time and the ability of the general population to avoid, accidentally or deliberately, breaking the law gets smaller all the time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    Richard (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 5:10am

    Death is too good

    for the examiner that approved this one!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 5:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Without fixing the legal system, the arguments here are meaningless. If it cost a few hundreds dollars and an afternoon off work to defend a copyright deal, there would be no trolls. That it could cost a million, well... there is your problem. Even if you tighten patents way down, you still end up with the same problem - someone will apply them in court and use the massive costs of litigation as a hammer to hit people over the head.

    Abolishing patents isn't an option - that would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    So once you address the legal system, and take some of the massive costs out, and make it harder for people to file random and frivolous lawsuits, then you might see everything else working better.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    gorehound (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 6:14am

    Time to Destroy All Patent Trolls !
    War On Trolls !

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 6:37am

    Re: cost of litigations

    This helps some by putting the suing party at risk of a extra cost if they lose. The defendants still have to finance the law suite and hope to get damages when they win. Allowing for appeals it could be many years before they get their money back. Being able to gain legal costs on winning a suite does not remove the extortion lever. An award of cost is no guarantee that they will be paid, the troll company could go bust.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 6:43am

    If this patent were valid...

    Wouldn't that make most of the DRM's out there infringing? Irony.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 6:57am

    Easy Fix

    Shoot all the lawyers.

    But the best ideas are not always workable.

    So how bout we fix the laws?
    Oh, the lawyers are in charge of the laws?...hmmmm


    OK, how bout we fix the Patent system?
    Oh, the lawyers are in charge of the Patent System too?...hmmmm.


    Never Mind.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Dreddsnik, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 7:08am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I guess I am naive too because I think he's MOSTLY right.

    Making our legal system as easy to access for those without corporate backing would seem to go a long way towards leveling the field.

    It's probably naive to expect it to happen because it is a good idea, and would be fought tooth and nail by entities that currently use it as an extortion tool.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Tony, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 7:19am

    Irony...

    I've purchased X-Plane to use on my PC, and very much appreciate the fact that they don't use Product Activation on their desktop version.

    But the fact that they would use such a hideous form of DRM on their mobile products makes me not feel so bad for them, even if this is a clear abuse of the patent system.

    Patent trolling is unacceptable, but so is Product Activation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 8:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Without fixing the legal system, the arguments here are meaningless."

    Apparently you fail to realize the entire purpose behind arguments; that aside, you still fail to acknowledge (or at least, care not to implicate you do) how broken the patent system is and how it enables trolls to exist in conjunction with a broken legal system.

    Even if it cost pennies to defend yourself trolls would still try to extort whatever they could from anyone they can, because their costs to file such suits is marginalized compared to the possible reward they can get.

    The fact that legal fees are exorbitant and settling is the lesser of evils just makes it all that more easier for the trolls, but to think that such bottom-feeding scum leeching off the ability of others would just flat out cease to exist because of cost - well who's being ignorant now ?

    And yes, you could just abolish patents - or do you need an explanation on capitalism and innovation as well?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 8:09am

    Re:

    "...payment for free defense."

    Apparently you don't understand the meaning on free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 8:26am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "You are ignorant"

    That is a correct statement. I am ignorant in many ways about many things, not sure what exactly you think I am unaware of.

    In your prior statement (Fix the legal system, and everything fixes itself.) you seem to have overlooked many things which would not "fix themselves" after having fixed the legal system. Certainly you can think of a few all on your own, give it a try now wont you? Here I'll start ... Middle East Crisis. How about that one? Yes, I realize that is not what you meant - however that is not what you typed.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 8:27am

    Re: Modern economic terrorism

    And what may I ask do you suppose has been happening for the last 60 years?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 8:47am

    What If?

    What if we started by just canceling IP in the US? You know, no more patents, no more copyrite, no more trademark (though I still lean toward that confusion issue), no more 'celebrity' rights. What would the ramifications be?

    Some Impacts...in no particular order:

    Certainly there would be fewer lawsuits.

    Businesses could safely move to competing via execution of their respective models and opens up tremendous R&D opportunities.

    Products will merge to be more alike and then differentiate better.

    Think of the relief on International relations once American companies no longer have the bully whip?

    People could get on with creating along with acting on some of the newer methods of monetizing your creations and researching ways that haven't even been thought of yet.

    What about the new found freedom for all those currently caught in the 'Gatekeepers Traps' that Big Media represent?

    The new hot industry will be 'Corporate Secrets Security'!

    There would be a huge number of start-up businesses.

    Some existing companies might think about taking their marbles and moving someplace that will only 'for now' get some local special protection, like a patent, which would then not be recognized in the US.

    Employment would rise.

    Prices would go down.

    Lawmakers would have much more time to worry about the Children and 'Terrists' and corn and sugar subsidies.

    A huge block of noise would disappear from the lobbying halls of all legislatures.

    How many years till the rest of the world follows?

    Individual medical costs would decline as drug prices implode.

    Real competition gets sparked everywhere to everyones (almost) amazement!

    What else...?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 9:05am

    Re: Re: Re:

    So if the patent system has done nothing wrong here, how did a patent get approved in 2005 that covers methods used to authenticate software dating back to the 80's?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Revelati, Sep 29th, 2012 @ 11:02am

    Moral of the story, don't use DRM! Because the same stingy, money grubbing, A-moral clowns who write DRM software will try to milk their patents, since apparently you can get a patent as broad as "software remotely connects to server for authentication"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
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    Vidiot (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 11:44am

    Plano's the place to be...

    ... apparently, if you're looking for standing in an Eastern District of Texas trollroom... err, courtroom. A quick consult with Uncle Google returns not only Uniloc themselves, and a small pile of IP law firms, but this tidbit: This same office/retail complex is the site of this year's 16th Annual Eastern District Bench Bar Conference! Link to a PDF copy of the program:


    PDF Program


    Highlights for me: a panel on "East Texas Ethics & Ettiquette"; and another panel featuring someone called "Scrappy". That's a whole mess o' down-home, good ol' boy rustic charm. Oh, yeah, and a little bit o' lawyerin'.


    This NEEDS to be the next big Techdirt giveaway... a trip to Plano! Imagine getting to hear and see all the nefarious doings we readers follow every day... maybe even spotting some of the protagonists in person! I'd plan a trip right now, if I wasn't so worried about walking away demoralized and suicidal...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
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    The Amazing Sammy (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 9:36pm

    There's no excuse for this.

    Look, I think it's fairly evident by the news channels that you just can't form a startup anymore, without certain kinds of serious asset protection place, and not be sued out of existence by the parasites of modern society.

    And yet, it really seems that absolutely nobody is taking asset protection, and complex legal entity structures into consideration when they're betting their entire life savings on the innovations that keep society moving.

    This is almost as appalling as the behavior of the patent trolls to begin with. Think people. Why do patent trolls go after small to mid sized businesses? Because it's easy, they don't get much of a fight, and it's rare to see them set up from day one in a way that they're protected from harm.

    There are anomalies in US and international law that the super rich have been using for generations to protect their wealth. There are several tricks that are unique to the US that if implemented, would virtually guarantee that you would never be sued by any patent troll in their right mind (and that there's no way they would ever be able to collect when and if they ever win).

    Why aren't technologists thinking of these things? The law is not going to change. Last time we thought it would change, it got worse. Nobody is looking out for small businesses at all, despite the election year rhetoric to the contrary. It's time that all technology entrepreneurs woke up and got with the fucking times.

    None of this is rocket science. All you need is a basic understanding of business entities, and a lawyer whose willing to do what needs to be done (most will, if you ask nicely). You just have to know ahead of time what you need, and be willing to go the extra mile to ensure the survival of your business.

    Sorry for the rant, but at least it's on topic.

     

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  35.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Sep 29th, 2012 @ 11:21pm

    Re: There's no excuse for this.

    ' There are several tricks that are unique to the US that if implemented, would virtually guarantee that you would never be sued by any patent troll in their right mind (and that there's no way they would ever be able to collect when and if they ever win).'

    Alright, you've got me curious, what tricks could a small, just starting out business possibly use to keep the parasites at bay?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Sep 30th, 2012 @ 2:29am

    Re: Re: There's no excuse for this.

    Problem there is...the startups would then have to hire super-expensive lawyers at super-expensive rates just to use these tricks. Most startups don't have that kind of capital to waste on "please don't sue me!" strategies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 5:03am

    Patents may be going the way of the dodo bird. Check out Sparkfun:

    The company (Sparkfun) was created in 2003, and it now has 143 employees, 75 million dollars of sales, 600,000 customers and makes 431 UNPATENTED products.

    http://www.sparkfun.com/news/963

    https://www.sparkfun.com/static/about

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 5:50am

    Isn't that what every program worth anything does? I mean you check / communicate with a server constantly. So everyone using Apache, IIS or any other server software that we interact with, is breaking this guys patent? All I say to that is where's my gun? Where does this punk live? Time for street justice. Our government won't help us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Sep 30th, 2012 @ 6:42am

    Re: Re: Re: There's no excuse for this.

    Oh I fully expect it to turn out to be smoke and mirrors at best, if the question is answered at all, I was just curious as to what the pitch was going to be.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 6:50am

    Re:

    Apparently they are in East Texas and fortunately in parts of East Texas that style of justice is perfectly acceptable. :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    fb39ca4, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 8:24am

    Uniloc, please go sue Ubisoft first.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 30th, 2012 @ 8:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Don't be dense. I meant everything that depends on the legal system. I am sure that everyone understood it, except you and maybe Marcus.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    Ninja (profile), Oct 1st, 2012 @ 4:19am

    Ah US. Set straight on path to self-destruction in a very creative way. Tell people about this madness and they will have the same reaction grandma had. That's our weapon: awareness. Let us rise as much as possible of it and maybe we can have some SOPA style pressure on the reform of this idiotic system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    abc gum, Oct 1st, 2012 @ 4:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    " I meant everything that depends on the legal system"

    Even that is a stretch.

    Not understanding is different than pointing out a lack of sufficient clarity.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    identicon
    Gregg, Oct 1st, 2012 @ 5:36am

    Patent trolls

    A patent should be nullified if the owner is not using it after the first 4 years of submitting the patent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 1st, 2012 @ 7:42am

    Re: Re: cost of litigations

    Problem with this is that it puts a significant risk on suing even when you're in the right.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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