How One Startup Used Patents To Kill A (Better) Competitor

from the sad dept

Teck points us to an all too typical, but still disappointing, story of a startup, Like.com (which previously was Riya), and how it allegedly killed off a better competitor with patents. In a strategically timed move, it sued the competitor, Modista, just days before it was going to close funding:
The lawsuit caused investors including Kumar to drop out, for fear of dealing with an expensive lawsuit that could cost more than they had even planned to invest. Because Modista had no money to defend the suit in court, the company later shut down.
This sort of story is more common than you might imagine. I recently had a conversation with a serial entrepreneur who told a similar story. One of his previous companies had been quite successful, and was on the verge of being acquired for upwards of $70 million. Days before the deal was to be closed, one of their competitors got wind of the deal, and filed a patent infringement lawsuit against them, leading the acquirer to drop the deal. Without the funds to fight the lawsuit, the entrepreneur had no other option but to sell his company to the company who sued him for less than $5 million.

Ask around, and you discover that this happens all the time -- patent holders using patents not to innovate, but to block and kill other companies -- especially when those companies really are more innovative and have a better product.

Filed Under: competition, image recognition, patents
Companies: like.com, modista, riya


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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 4 May 2011 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    If the lawsuit was indeed frivolous, then it would likely not take 5+ years to be resolved.

    Ha! You can't be serious. How long did the RIM patent lawsuit last?

    Furthermore, the costs of defending against a "frivolous" lawsuit, while not trivial, are certainly not within sniffing distance of a $70M acquisition price.

    No one said that it did. But you are now adding millions to the $70M purchase price, plus uncertainty, plus the potential that the $70M might go towards nothing. That's crazy costly.

    It makes no logical sense to compare the cost of the lawsuit to the cost of acquisition. The two are independent.

    My guess is that the buyer backed out because it was actually afraid of losing, not just defending the lawsuit. In such circumstances, the idea that the patent infringement claim was frivolous begins to lack merit.

    Your guess is wrong. The buyer backed out because this added significant costs to an acquisition it reasonably valued at $70M.

    And what was so insidious about this was the timing of the lawsuit. The two products had co-existed in the marketplace for about five years. It was only when the one company got wind of the acquisition that it filed the lawsuit.

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