Over the past two months, I have become more cynical about our legal professionals. If that’s possible.
A variety of our members are now in litigation because of patents created in the late 90’s. Patents based on workflow — not equipment or unique technological advances. The patents were granted but were probably never enforced by the patent holder because the industry was simultaneously adopting similar, but differing, workflows to produce print.
15 years later, a corporate shell (non practicing entity or Patent Troll) is created and it now owns those patents. How the Troll got them is a question which probably needs to be explored, but that’s an issue for another time. The Troll hires a law firm which sends letters to dozens of firms stating that the printers are infringing on those patents and for a $75,000 licensing fee, everyone (lawyers and Patent Troll) will be happy. Oh, and if you don’t respond the price tag goes to $90,000, and we’ll see you in court, where the price tag could easily exceed the cost of the license. Oh, and don’t expect the manufacturers to step in — the patent doesn’t “legally” affect them. Such a deal.
Needless to say in an industry which is still reeling from an economic downturn and shrinking profit margins, this is not a discussion many owners wish to have. If you think this is an isolated incident, in 2011 over $29 Billion was generated in license and legal fees across all industries. The issue even has the Obama administration yelling foul. Probably one of the few times business and the administration will see eye-to-eye.
What can be done? Sad to say, at this time the law is on the side of the Trolls. Yes, the Administration is asking Congress and the U.S. Patent Office to find a solution — but I assure you that the patent attorneys, who have made a livelihood protecting trolls, will not go quietly into the night.
Our Printing Industries of America’s legislative team is working on this — and it was discussed with many Congressional representatives at the recent Print’s Voice conference in Washington D.C. last month, but that’s not enough. Congress needs to hear the voices of the folks who will be directly affected by this type of action. If you’re concerned, and you should be, become more informed (contact Julie Riccio with our PIA Legislative team) and get loud with your Congressional delegates.