Patent Trolls Abusing The Courts Pose Major Economic Threat

troll3How well do you remember the fairy tales you were taught as a child? More importantly, do you recall any of them having a hidden lesson about tort reform?

If you heard this week’s edition of “Let’s Be Fair!,” you know that the story of Billy Goats Gruff does indeed have a hidden lesson that can be used to understand a diabolical new kind of character known as a patent troll.

In the story about the billy goats, a troll who hides under a bridge threatens to gobble up anyone who tries to cross over it. In modern-day America, so-called patent trolls are abusing the legal system to gobble up the hard-earned money of entrepreneurs who, the troll argues, are a infringing on their patent. This is no fairy tale, though, and victims of the trolls include both large and small businesses, so almost no one is safe from the lawsuits.

What exactly is a patent troll? An excellent article in Forbes describes them this way:

“a ‘patent troll’ is, by definition, any person or entity that owns a patent but does not produce the patented product or practice the patented method. Instead, the so-called ‘troll’ exacts a toll, in the form of a license fee, from other persons or entities the “troll” believes infringes (or do infringe) the patent.”

So, what’s the problem? If someone owns the rights to a product or process, why shouldn’t they be entitled to payment? It’s the American way, right?

Well, if someone has a legitimate patent and another party is genuinely infringing on it, then yes, the patent owner would have the right to demand payment. However, the problem today is that many of the lawsuits being filed by patent trolls allege infringements of their patent that are so vague that they amount to nothing more than fishing expeditions, and their victims have to either settle out of court to cut their losses or spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting them.

These trolls are exploiting current law which does not require that a patent holder explain how a patent is infringed, or even identify the product involved. This makes it nearly impossible for someone who has been sued to evaluate the case and decide how to proceed.

Victims of patent trolls have included everyone from a famous comedian and a popular website to small home builders and large consumer product makers. Click here to see a short video of a home builder in Oregon explaining how he was targeted by patent troll and how homebuyers across the nation would have to pay more for their slice of the American dream if the lawsuit were successful.

A few years ago, I appeared on John Stossel’s program on FOX with the creator of a popular website who was also sued by a patent troll. His name is Drew Curtis, and despite huge odds, he fought back. He eventually won, and later, he gave an excellent TED talk on his experience that I highly recommend. You can see it here.

Certainly, patents are important to our economy for many reasons, not the least of which is that they give incentives to inventors to be creative. However, in the hands of unethical trolls, they’ve become nothing more than assault weapons for hold-up artists.

A diverse and well-organized coalition of job providers called United for Patent Reform has mounted a national campaign to end this form of legalized extortion. Find out about their effort here.

Baby Strollers and Legal Reform

Coffee-CupCan a baby stroller that warns parents to “remove child before folding” help save America from drowning in a sea of frivolous lawsuits?

That’s what I wondered in 1997 when I created the Wacky Warning Label Contest and used that stroller warning to help raise public awareness about the litigation problem in America. It’s also what I’m wondering now as I start my first blog.

A blog about lawsuits that people without a law degree will enjoy reading…

The law is a confusing and often intimidating topic. I probably know that as well as anyone in America. Even though I’m not a lawyer, I have spent more than 20 years working with lawyers, debating lawyers on television and radio, and even evaluating the performance of lawyers who have become judges.

I’ve made it my life’s work to peel back the curtain shrouding the legal community in secrecy and mystery. Why? Because the more that non-lawyers know about America’s “whacked out” civil justice system, the more pressure will build on policymakers to put personal responsibility and common sense back to work.

So that’s why I talk about baby strollers.

Virtually everybody has used a stroller at some point in his or her life. If you haven’t pushed one, you were probably pushed IN one. And if you’ve ever seen the folding variety, you know that a child who has been placed in that stroller needs to be removed before the stroller is folded and put away. It’s common sense.

So why does a manufacturer of baby strollers sold in America feel it needs to warn its customers to remove their child before folding the stroller? It isn’t just because people sometimes fail to use common sense. It’s because more and more people who fail to use common sense and then cause an injury are deciding to call a lawyer so they can sue someone.

This is a problem you don’t need to be a lawyer to understand.

And it’s probably why virtually every television network in America, and many of the major networks around the world, have reported on the Wacky Warning Label Contest and used these labels to tell the story of our broken civil justice system.

It’s also why publications as diverse as the Wall Street Journal and the National Enquirer have reported on the Wacky Warning Label Contest and commented on what these labels say about our society.

So I will use this blog to continue telling a wide variety of stories that expose how the litigation explosion in our courts has changed life in American, piled costs on consumers and made a mockery of personal responsibility.

This blog will also offer my perspective on lawsuits and litigation-related issues that affect families, charities, communities, job providers and everyone who lives in this great jury pool known as the United States of America.

Hopefully, we’ll make some progress and there will come a day when we won’t need labels like the one we found on a four-inch long fishing lure that warns: “Harmful if swallowed!”

Thanks for checking in here today. I’ll try to make it worth your while to check back again.