from the censorious-patenting dept
As you probably know, each month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) posts its "Stupid Patent of the Month" post, highlighting particularly egregious patents that never should have been approved and/or particularly egregious patent litigation around those patents. You might know about this even if you don't follow the EFF's own website, because we almost always repost those posts here on Techdirt, under EFF's Creative Commons' license. In fact, last summer, we reposted EFF's article about US Patent 6,690,400, held by Global Equity Management (SA) Pty. Ltd. ("GEMSA"), an Australian company that has all the hallmarks of a classic patent troll. You can read that post for the details of the patent in question, but suffice it to say, EFF described it as "storage cabinets on a computer" and GEMSA has sued dozens of companies, rarely explaining how they possibly infringe. For example, in suing Airbnb, all GEMSA notes is that the site's user interface "infringes one or more of the claims of the '400 patent."
Not surprisingly, GEMSA was not particularly thrilled about being named the holder of a "stupid patent of the month" or to have EFF make fun of its lawsuits. Unlike, say, IBM, who upon being named a stupid patentholder of the month appeared to see the error of its ways, GEMSA decided to really double down. It went to court. In Australia. And got an order telling EFF to take down the article and barring EFF from publishing anything about any of GEMSA's patents.
Now, we've written multiple times in the past about Australia's questionable views on internet free speech and prior restraint. However, we've also noted -- quite directly, that the SPEECH Act quite clearly bars such Australian court orders from being valid in the US.
It appears that the good folks at the EFF will now be putting that to the test. They've filed for declaratory judgment in federal court in the Northern District of California to have the court say that the court order from Down Under is unenforceable here. You can check out the full filing here or embedded below.
The filing goes into fairly great detail about just how really upset GEMSA is. It literally claims that calling its patent "stupid" is "misleading" because the patent "is not in fact 'stupid.'" Very convincing. There are also some bizarre conspiracy theory claims, including saying that the filings in some of GEMSA's lawsuits against Airbnb and Zillow "are not available in the public domain" despite them being available on PACER (and "GEMSA's own press release announcing its first wave of lawsuits attaches a copy of one of the complaints and explicitly notes that they are public records available on PACER.")
Whether or not Australians' somewhat twisted views on free speech say that you cannot give your opinion that a patent is stupid, in the US that's very clearly protected speech. Furthermore, here in the US, you cannot bar someone from ever talking about your patents. That's known as prior restraint and, as good old Walter Sobchak from the Big Lebowski eloquently stated: "The Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint."
That said, as EFF notes, without a declaratory judgment, GEMSA can continue to threaten EFF with enforcement (it is already demanding that EFF remove the article, pay it money, and get others to remove links). Or, worse, GEMSA might use the Australian court order to get the article delisted from search engines. There is a real possibility of chilling effects:
... the Australian Injunction has cast a shadow over the legality of EFF’s speech about GEMSA’s ’400 patent and litigation, and is chilling EFF’s further speech. Given the present uncertainty concerning the injunction’s enforceability in the United States, EFF feels constrained from speaking further about these topics – indeed, about any of GEMSA’s patents, since the order sweeps that broadly – aside from simply reporting about this declaratory judgment action to its readers.
Also of significant concern to EFF is that, absent an order from a United States court declaring the Australian Injunction repugnant to U.S. law and unenforceable here, GEMSA will follow through on its counsel’s threat and successfully use the injunction to persuade American search engines to “deindex” the Article, which would effectively preclude EFF from speaking publicly on this important U.S. legal and political issue altogether.
This should be a layup for EFF, but as we know, these kinds of disputes can be both time consuming and costly. But, really, of all the organizations to go after with an attempt to censor their opinions, you've got to be pretty short-sighted to think that EFF is a proper target.