Civil Liberties

Patent Troll Suing FTC, Claims Constitutional Right to Threaten Lawsuits Over Alleged Patent Infringement

Over the way documents are scanned and e-mailed


careful, might be patented
"Office Space"/Fox

There's a certain way to scan documents and e-mail them that MPHJ Technology Investments says it holds a government-awarded patent for. The company, a so-called "patent assertion entity" or troll, is accused of threatening to sue companies for infringement if they don't pay a thousand dollars per worker, according to Legal Newsline, which reports that MPHJ is now suing the FTC to stop the FTC from suing it for "unfair trade practices," or threatening to sue patent infringers without actually intending to. Outside of the lawsuit, MPHJ claims free speech protections, too. Via Legal Newsline:

In a corporate statement last week, MPHJ said it believes the FTC has decided it simply does not like the free speech in which the company is engaged and is seeking to interfere with or stop that speech.

"The FTC does not contest that MPHJ's patents are valid, that they may be are infringed by thousands of businesses, that MPHJ has the right to enforce its patents against those infringers, that MPHJ has a right to send letters in doing so, and does not contest that MPHJ has the right to threaten suit for infringement," the company said in its statement.

Legal Newsline notes a September ruling by a federal judge that the attempt by the Nebraska attorney general to stop MPHJ's law firm from sending cease and desist orders was a violation of the First Amendment, and patent law.

Indeed, while the "patent troll" MPHJ exists only to buy patents and then target perceived patent infringers, companies that hold patents to mundane-sounding processes like scanning documents for e-mail but actually also make things, in part using those patents, sometimes engage in trollish behavior as well.

Apple and Samsung have been engaged in a protracted legal war over smartphone technology patents for several years, with Apple also claiming Samsung's phones and tablets copied Apple's look and feel. The patents include processes like how to pinch your screen to zoom, again, mundane-sounding in 2014.

Patent laws, originally, were meant to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts," as the Constitution describes them in one of the actually enumerated powers of Congress. Yet when fights like Apple and Samsung's lead to dueling orders to prevent certain products from entering certain markets, it retards technological progress, as contrary to the stated aims of laws protecting copyrights and patents as a company that goes around threatening to sue office workers for the way they e-mail documents, because the government granted it a piece of paper granting it rights to that process.

The Supreme Court will be hearing a case on software patents specifically, where Ronald  Bailey argues the court could strike a blow for innovation by killing off the software patent.

Related video: Last February, Reason TV explored "How Patent Trolls Kill Innovation":