RIM, Samsung, Amazon Sued: Move Along, Nothing to See Here?
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One recent case that seems to have thus far avoided the troll-watcher's spotlight is Unifi Scientific Batteries v. RIM et. al. Perhaps this is because the case is simply flying under the radar, or perhaps because the patent in question is more technically specific than the usual software processes that are a troll's bread and butter. Perhaps we're all simply expecting yet another story of big companies deciding that settling the case is the quickest, easiest, cheapest solution.
Unifi is going after RIM, Samsung, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Texas Instruments -- all companies that have produced devices that utilize a specific battery charging technology. It's worth wondering whether the Nexus, Nook, Kindle Fire, and BlackBerry have something specific in the power system that a number of other devices may lack... if that's not the case, and Unifi sees some success in settlement and / or licensing, expect this to be the first of many similar cases.
The case deals with patent 6791298, a "monolithic battery charging device", which was filed in November of 2002 and granted in September of '04. The claims in '298 are quite specific and detailed, and the initial inventor is clearly a manufacturing entity -- all of which suggest that the patent itself is essentially defensible (although there is plenty of prior art to consider).
But since the initial assignment, '298 has changed hands a few times... nothing inherently excessive in and of itself, but certainly begging the question of the status of the assignees. Neither American Ventures nor Mainstream Scientific seem to be anything but non-manufacturing patent-holding entities, although there's no litigation history to suggest that they're actually shell companies created for aggressive trolling.
Unifi is represented by the Simon Law Firm, which proudly states "We have successfully litigated patent infringement cases against some of the largest companies in the world, such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, BMW, Cisco, Dell, Wells Fargo, General Motors, Xerox, Ford, and Sun Microsystems." The firm has litigated cases on behalf of some of the many shell companies formed by Acacia, one of the most notoriously prolific patent trolls of the Information Age. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Simon Law also names the Eastern District of Texas as their first IP venue of choice (with Delaware, a patent troll's vacation home, coming in as a runner-up).
The firm's attorney for the case is Benjamin R Askew, who has significant recent experience representing plaintiffs who resemble patent trolls. Askew has also worked for Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), who cast a losing "nay" during the House vote over the Patent Reform Act of 2007 -- one of the series of proposals that the U.S. switch to a more streamlined and internationally utilized "first-to-file" method, which saw partial integration under the America Invents Act.
Regardless of the fact that the litigation has troll's markings, considerations of the patent strength and legal ownership make this a relatively non-controversial case. Which may be the hardest part to swallow -- the most dangerous factor to the landscape of technology patents may not be the clear abuses, but rather the perfectly justified holding companies that never stray far from accepted ethical exercises of the law. If we see enough egregious examples of trolling, there's bound to be a crackdown sooner or later. But if more-Myhrvhold-style trolling becomes just business as usual, a million Unifi's won't warrant any special attention.