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.

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Companies: uniloc

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Comments on “X-plane Developer Sued By Patent Troll; Ponders Shuttering Business Or Defending”

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Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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?

Dreddsnik says:

Re: 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.

FuzzyDuck says:

Re: 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.

Charlie says:

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.

Miff (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Jan Bilek (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

haiku says:

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 … 🙂

Tony says:


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.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

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…?

Vidiot (profile) says:

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…

The Amazing Sammy (profile) says:

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.

That One Guy (profile) says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

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