Putting Press Releases Online? Patented! Lots Of Small Companies Sued
from the sickening dept
Law.com has an article highlighting how incredibly devastating a bogus patent infringement lawsuit can be to small businesses. In this case, someone hiding behind a series of shell companies is using a ridiculously laughable patent that appears to cover the concept of putting press releases online (6,370,535) and suing a bunch of companies that do exactly that. The article highlights the head of one tiny company — which, it should be noted, has been in business and doing the same thing since before the patent application was filed — who is debating whether he should go without a salary or company profits for three years to fight this, or just pay up. It’s really a sickening display of how patents are used to seriously harm small businesses.
We’ve had commenters here say in the past that situations like this are “no problem,” because the accused can just show the prior art and move on. Not at all. They have to actually go through with a trial, which by itself, can cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range (without even counting the time wasted on it). The guy profiled in the article was shocked by this — figuring he could just file some paperwork to show that this patent is clearly invalid:
Putting aside the validity of the patent, Kennedy notes that the application wasn’t even filed until 1999 — a year after he started his business.
“I said, okay, I precede this,” he said. “I thought, I’ll just have to file that paperwork, whatever that is. And then I found out there’s no paperwork. It’s called a trial.”
Even more frustrating? The guy has no clue who he’s even fighting against. As has become all too common, the company suing is really a shell company, and there’s no info about who’s actually behind it:
It’s additionally frustrating to Kennedy that he can’t know who is actually accusing him of patent infringement. Gooseberry Natural Resources, LLC has taken extraordinary steps to hide the identity of its owner. Corporate records held by the Texas Secretary of State show that a second Delaware-based shell company, Vertigo Holding LLC, owns Gooseberry. Since Vertigo Holding is incorporated in Delaware, it is not required to list its officers or owners. Vertigo’s address is the same Newark, Delaware address as A.I. Business Services, a company that sets up “virtual offices” to help clients “portray the image of a large corporation.” It boasts that its staff “are all trained in sales and customer serice and daily play or act as if they are in Delaware, Florida, or Texas — regardless of where our offices truly are.”
The guy is trying to fight back by setting up website and getting other online press release services to team up, but it’s not always so easy, as many of these companies are small shops who are more focused on actually serving their customers (you know, important stuff like that), rather than fighting off ridiculous patent threats for such an obvious idea.