by Mike Masnick
Tue, Oct 16th 2007 2:22pm
Back in May we told you about a class action lawsuit that was being filed against Netflix, claiming that the company violated antitrust law by fraudulently obtaining the patents it was using to sue Blockbuster. This seemed like a really odd argument, and one unlikely to succeed. By definition, patents are monopoly rights which are granted by the government -- so it's difficult to see how they can violate antitrust law. Also, as we noted when the original suit was filed, these types of class action lawsuits rarely do much good (though, they do tend to make lawyers a lot wealthier). A little over a month after this lawsuit was filed, Netflix and Blockbuster decided to settle their patent dispute, at which point we wondered what would happen to the antitrust class action. Now we know. It's about to be dismissed. However, the judge apparently is worried that due to the original press coverage of the case (from folks like yours truly), potential members of the class may have held back filing other actions against Netflix -- and therefore has demanded that the lawyers get the same level of press coverage as the first time. Of course, the news that such an action has been dismissed isn't quite as newsworthy as the original filing (which was newsworthy for being an odd way to fight bad patents). Either way, the anonymous lawyer who tipped me off to the original case, has now emailed me again with the order demanding similar press coverage (to be clear: it's the order demanding similar press coverage, not the lawyer, who said rather little in the email). I'll post it here not because the dismissal of the case is interesting, but the idea that the judge believes the plaintiffs can "make sure that the end of these actions gets as much attention as their start." At this point it's unclear if the dismissal is because of the settlement (quite likely) or because it's just not a very good idea to claim patents violate antitrust law. As much as our patent law and patent system are screwed up these days, allowing people to challenge patents on the basis of antitrust class action lawsuits seems likely to only make things worse.
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