Earlier this year we wrote
about Joe Mullin's excellent reporting on a series of patent holding shell companies, led by one called MPHJ Holdings, who were sending demand letters
to tons of companies demanding that they pay between $900 and $1200 per employee
for using scanners connected to a network with a "scan to email" feature. Mullin is back with more on MPHJ, talking to two of the lawyers working for the patent troll
, though the identity of the actual patent holder remains a secret.
One of the lawyers is heading up the whole threat letter and (expected) litigation campaign (no lawsuits have been filed but "draft" complaints have been sent to various companies, indicating lawsuits will be coming soon) and the other is in charge of talking to "irate" recipients of the shakedown letter. That lawyer, Jay Mac Rust, apparently is one of a few lawyers who have certain "territories" in this scheme, but in a recorded message that Mullin obtained with a discussion between Mac Rust and one of the letter recipients, Mac Rust explains that he's the one who deals with the angry ones. Mac Rust repeatedly suggests that letter recipients consult a patent lawyer to find out that this is all "legal." Of course, doing so also will help people realize just how much a patent lawyer costs and can then do the math on the value of fighting back.
Also, it's somewhat amusing that a lawyer who claims to have spent time understanding patent law seems quite confused about copyright law. Mullin tried to reach Mac Rust a bunch of times, only to finally get him to call when told that the article was soon to be published, and would include quotes from the recorded phone call with the letter recipient and
a picture of Mac Rust. Mac Rust didn't like that and said that copyright law meant Mullin couldn't use his photo:
"I'd appreciate you not running a photo of me, anywhere," said Rust. "You know how photographs work, with copyright and all. If there's a photograph up online of me, I own it."
That's not true. At all. The copyright is normally with the photographer, not the subject of a photo, for one thing (though the copyrights can be assigned). But, on top of that Mullin publishing such a photo at Ars Technica is clearly protected by fair use.
Mullin also runs through some somewhat shady business practices that Mac Rust was sued over in the past, though Mac Rust seems to suggest that the questionable stuff was done by the guy employing him, and for the most part it looks like he's gotten out of the various lawsuits through settlement or dismissal.
Mullin then talks to the lawyer officially representing MPHJ, who doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with what he's doing, arguing that inventors deserve to be protected. He doesn't seem to acknowledge that the "inventor" appears to have "invented" a general idea that lots of people had, but few people implemented, not because the idea wasn't there, but the tech itself wasn't ready. The fact that the "inventor" on the patent failed to actually successfully sell a product in the market should be indication enough that there was nothing special about the patent itself. But the lawyer, Bryan Farney, doesn't seem to see how that's an issue.
“The inventor obviously came up with something that’s widely used,” Farney said. “That happens sometimes.”
This is the frustrating thing about patent system supporters. They never seem even marginally willing to admit that there are massive problems that come about when someone gets a patent on a general idea that lots of people have, but which the technology is not yet ready for. They seem to think this is fine, never acknowledging how they're actually stomping on the basic rights of everyone else
who came up with the idea, followed by (in this case) everyone who is using
a basic technology offered by nearly every scanner maker today. There is no way anyone can view this as a reasonable result or the intention of today's patent system.