Within the patent attorney/patent trolling world, there's been a story gathering steam over the last couple months that seems to only get more bizarre every week. It started, simply enough, at the beginning of September when a company, which was just formed a few months ago, called Illinois Computer Research, sued Google for patent infringement
. The patent in question (which amusingly enough, can be found hosted at Google) is officially for "Enhancing touch and feel on the internet"
. The details show that it's really just describing how you might represent a book online -- and, in fact, the lawsuit points to Google's book scanning project as being infringing. There's nothing all that interesting there, other than yet another case of a company doing nothing suing a company that's doing quite a bit of innovating using an overly broad an obvious patent. However, at the end of the article linked above there's a small aside that has turned out to be much more important: "The inventor listed on the patent is Scott C. Harris of San Diego, Calif. Presumably, he is the same Scott C. Harris listed as a Principal in the San Diego office of Fish & Richardson P.C, a patent prosecution firm." From that, you would probably assume that Fish and Richardson was behind ICR's lawsuit. In fact, you'd be wrong. Google is actually a Fish & Richardson client... whereas ICR is represented by Niro, Scavone, a firm that has fought against Fish & Richardson quite a bit.
Then the details started to come out. It appears that a top partner at Fish & Richardson was filing for patents on the side and then licensing them out to patent trolls
, often so that they would then sue companies -- including companies represented by his own employer, Fish & Richardson. Now, I know I said that I'm not
a fan of the term "patent troll," but in this case it appears completely warranted, as the very same Scott Harris happens to run a website (currently taken down) called ImAPatentTroll.com
. If he's okay with it, then I see no reason not to use it to describe him. Fish & Richardson fired Harris, but the story doesn't end there. Illinois Computer Research isn't just suing Google... it's also suing Fish & Richardson for supposedly trying to get Harris to get it to drop the suit. Now, Fish & Richardson has filed quite a response
, claiming that Harris used company time, equipment and resources to file for a bunch of patents -- and then, rather than just licensing or selling those patents, would work out special deals with the companies he licensed the patents to, allowing him (personally) to get a cut of any legal wins those firms get in suing for infringement. He even would point out firms that might be infringing on the patent. Many of the negotiations for those relationships were done using his Fish & Richardson email -- even one email discussion that pointed out that Google (again, an F&R client who Harris had even done some work for) was potentially infringing on Harris' patent and could be a good target for a lawsuit. Welcome to the lovely world of patent extortion, where the money from the practice is so lucrative that one of the highest paid lawyers at a top law firm would quietly license his patents to be used against his own firm's clients in exchange for a cut of the profits.