“Then they pop up and say, ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!’ Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.”
Those are the words of Newegg.com’s chief legal officer, Lee Cheng. He was speaking to Arstechnica.com following a landmark ruling that sided with a great business against a wicked patent troll company called Soverain.
What is a patent troll? It is a company that has acquired patents (usually through purchases on the open market) but does not use them for any productive purpose. Instead, it lives off looting good companies by blackmailing people. The trolls say, “Pay us now or get raked over the coals in court.”
Soverain is one such company. Most companies it has sued have paid the ransom. Soverain has collected untold hundreds of millions in fines from the likes of Bloomingdale’s, J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Victoria’s Secret, Amazon, and Nordstrom.
It sounds like a criminal operation worthy of the old world of, say, southern Italy (no offense, guys!). Indeed, but this is how it works in the U.S. these days. The looting is legal. The blackmail is approved. The graft is in the open. The expropriation operates under the cover of the law. The backup penalties are inflicted by the official courts.
To be sure, the trolls may not be as bad as conventional patent practice. At least the trolls don’t try to shut you down and cartelize the economy. They just want to get their beak wet. Once that happens, you are free to go about your business. This is one reason they have been so successful.
Soverain’s plan was to loot every online company in existence for a percentage of their revenue, citing the existence of just two patents. Thousands of companies have given in, causing an unnatural and even insane increase in the price of patent bundles. Free enterprise lives in fear.