There are an awful lot of bogus patent lawsuits out there, but even when the lawsuits are tossed out it's very, very rare for a judge to order the plaintiffs to pay the legal fees of the defendants. However, in Illinois it just happened. Joe Mullin has the story of a patent that was quite
clearly limited to an infrared camera
linked to a GPS system. The patent examiner required the inventor to include the word "infrared" before declaring the patent acceptable and non-obvious. Yet, that didn't stop the patent holder from suing LG, Pantech and Disney
for the Disney mobile phone service that let parents track
where their kids were. The product was a huge commercial failure
, but those are three big companies worth suing for infringement.
However, the judge noted, sternly, that the patent holder and the law firm that was handling the case (which had also worked on the patent) clearly decided to ignore what the patent actually said about it being for infrared cameras. This practice is more common than it should be. Even when claims are written to be narrowly focused, there's always some wiggle room, and many patent holders bring lawsuits on technologies that are pretty far from what's in the claims -- usually hoping that the accused will settle rather than take the issue to court. In this case, though, the judge pointed out that it was clearly a frivolous lawsuit, and ordered the defendants get reasonable costs and attorneys' fees. If this happened more often, maybe we'd see fewer ridiculous patent lawsuits.