Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gradient Enterprises v. Skype: The Geek's Revenge?

Last week was a bad week for Skype, it's true. A full day outage caused angry worldwide anguish ("What do you mean, my free international telephone system isn't working!?!?"). And they were sued for patent infringement by a company no one ever heard of by the name of Gradient Enterprises.

Although Gradient suffered the standard condemnation by the usual suspects (TechCrunch, who labelled it an "obnoxious troll," I'm looking at you), the truth is a lot more obscure than that.

The first clue is the venue -- the Northern District of New York. Doesn't this troll know that the epicenter of the patent world is Marshall Texas?

The second clue is its almost complete lack of any presence online. Even tiny trolls can be found with a little digging.

The truth appears to be that Gradient appears to be the creation of the inventor of the patent, Kristeps Johnson, a proud resident of Rochester, NY, where the complaint was filed. He appears to be a talented computer engineer, known for developing something known as Sysjail, which enables computer processes to be put in "jail" so that they can only access part of the file system.

So, it may be true that Mr. Johnson is seeking to hold up Skype for millions of dollars for infringing what looks to be a pretty broad patent, but an "obnoxious troll" he is not.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Infoblox figures out how to skin a Bluecat

On Monday, one of the largest companies in the network infrastructure field, Infoblox, sued one of its smaller competitors, Bluecat Networks .for infringing its "Domain Name Service Server" patent. Evidently, Bluecat has been competing with Infoblox in the IP address management system field in a way that Infoblox found threatening. Infoblox was ready and wasted no time in bringing this suit -- the patent was only issued in October.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The rise of the non-profit troll -- Excelsior!

Now, anyone who's been around patent litigation for even a few years gets used to Marshall, Texas being the center of the universe (check out Bodacious Bar B Que -- you'll thank me) and get's used to patent trolls from all over California setting up a shell company in Longview or Tyler to sue a bunch of Taiwanese and Korean electronics companies on another WiFi or smartphone patent. That's old hat these days.

But I must admit that the two cases brought the other day by a troll called Azure Networks against Nokia, H-P and the usual suspects surprised me. Named as a co-plaintiff (and, evidently the owner of the patent) is the non-profit Tri-County Excelsior Foundation, described as a "supporting organization" to a very worthy charity -- CASA of Harrison County (which helps abused kids). I don't know whether this is part of Azure's owner's tax planning strategy, a fundraising mechanism for CASA or both, but I did find this pretty unusual.

China comes to Tennessee to attack California spas

In what has to be one of the odder patent lawsuits (or at least the one with the most exotic name) filed in the District of Tennessee, Zhongshan Rising Dragon Trading Company has sued Jacuzzi, the famous spa manufacturer, for infringing its patent (for which it is the exclusive licensee) for a jet barrel for a spa jet.

Although you certainly wouldn't know it from the name, Zhongshan (a Chinese spa manufacturer) is engaging in blatant "hometowning" -- with its US warehouse located in Sweetwater, Tennessee. Here's hoping that the Chinese pick up a little US litigation culture and learn that, sometimes the best way to break into a market is to sue your competitors.

But, by the way guys, if you're going to do business in Tennessee, you might think of renaming your US subsidiary "Bob's Screaming Eagle" instead. Just sayin'.

Battle of the Golf Bags-- Party at Club Glove!

Today, two of the titans of golf bag manufacturing -- West Coast Trends (maker of the "Club Glove Last Bag," evidently used by most professional golfers) and Ogio International (who makes golf bags which, according to the company's website, can be strapped to a motorcyclist's back) -- have faced off in the Eastern District of Texas in a patent infringement lawsuit brought by West Coast. The patent, obtained in 2003 by West Coast's founder Jeffrey Herold, apparently enables to bag to resist wear, while still remaining flexible.

In a real departure for the Eastern District, the plaintiff is actually a company that makes and sells a product covered by its patent who has sued a competitor (and every retailer who sells its products) for the purpose of obtaining a competitive advantage by (a) holding a (supposedly) broad patent and (b) suing its competitor for infringement. Since around here, this is what we think patents are for -- we applaud you, Club Glove!