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Tech Entrepreneur Fights Patent Trolls on Capitol Hill

CTA Staff

App developer, entrepreneur and CEA member Todd Moore testified on Capitol Hill last week about the need for fair, common-sense patent reform. As the victim of a patent troll attack, Moore is an expert in the subject. One of the entrepreneurs and small business owners who isn’t forced into silence by patent troll threats and non-disclosure agreements, he’s using this platform to speak out and, hopefully, help other small businesses wrongfully sued for patent infringement. 

Tell us about your experience with patent litigation. How long have you been fighting patent trolls?
I’ve been actively trying to end patent trolling for a few years now, but the problem has existed for much longer than that. It’s nothing short of extortion, and it’s really hurting small businesses. I first learned of patent trolling in May 2011 when I read stories that app developers were being unfairly targeted. Since I had been publishing smartphone apps since 2008, these stories really hit home for me. I start covering it on a tech show I hosted called Tech 411, now a weekly podcast on iTunes. In our first couple shows, I discussed how a patent troll named Lodsys was going after app developers. I commented that Lodsys was “patent trolling” and sending out “evil letters.” Around this time Apple had featured our show, and we quickly became the #1 tech news podcast on iTunes.
Shortly after these shows were published, I received one of the infamous Lodsys letters myself, which said I was in violation of their patents. Their letter included a screenshot of my app White Noise, showing a web page used to share news and cross promote other apps. They highlighted a hyperlink that would open a URL to another one of my apps on the App Store. If opening a URL to a web page or app store listing is in violation of their patents, then everyone who publishes an app would be in violation.
Over the course of a couple years, I received a few voicemails from either Lodsys or the law firm representing them. They wanted me to take a “license agreement” or they might take legal action. In 2013, I learned they filed a lawsuit against my company when a patent lawyer from Texas emailed offering to defend me in this case. I was shocked that they actually filed a lawsuit when their claims were completely ridiculous.

Have you encountered other entrepreneurs who have had similar challenges?
As I talked to other business owners, I learned I wasn’t alone. The threatening demand letters seem to be a common thread. Most app developers I talked to advised me to just ignore the demand letters like they were spam email sent to your junk-mail folder. However, the companies that did actually get sued always told me to “Just settle. It’s not worth the fight.” But I also heard that by settling, companies open the floodgates for other bottom-feeding patent trolls to come knocking. It’s like your company gets put on a list for other patent trolls to target. I could not find an easy answer to this problem.

You recently testified on Capitol Hill about your experience. Why was it important for you to tell your story in that setting?
I was able to quickly get out of the patent troll lawsuit because a non-profit organization, Public Patent Foundation, represented my company pro bono. Once the patent troll found out I also had a free lawyer, they dismissed their lawsuit. I didn’t have to agree to a license agreement or sign a non-disclosure agreement. As such, I’m one of the few small business owners that can share my experience so it was important that my story be heard by Congress.

What action do you hope Congress will take next?
My hope is that Congress does right by the small businesses that help stimulate our local economies and passes the Innovation Act. If passed into law, it would require patent owners to do more research before filing lawsuits. They would have to be more transparent by informing the court who is financially benefiting from this lawsuit. It would limit discovery, which is how patent trolls bleed small companies dry and force them into a settlement. Because patent trolls use shell companies with little assets it is next to impossible to get awarded legal fees by the court. The Innovation Act helps plug those holes and many others. It’s a comprehensive, common-sense solution that would make a patent troll think twice about abusing the system.

Are you as outraged as we are? Take action now. Tell Congress that we must pass the Innovation Act.