CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

Business

January 29, 2014

Google wins $1 victory against patent owner harassing customers

WASHINGTON — A $1 victory for Google could mean a whole lot more in savings for some of its customers.

A federal jury in Marshall, Texas, said Jan. 23 that patent-licensing company Beneficial Innovations breached a settlement agreement with Google by suing its customers. The jury awarded nominal damages of $1, which was all Google sought because its main goal was to make clear that its customers were covered by the license.

The case illustrates how technology companies are fighting patent-licensing firms that sue their customers. Companies such as Google and Adobe are increasingly challenging patents in courts and before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and are asking Congress to pass legislation to discourage lawsuits against the users of technology.

"We have the resources, we understand the technology, we know how our product is supposed to be used, and we're in the best position to defend our customers," said Dana Rao, associate general counsel at Adobe, which has sued patent- licensing companies on behalf of its customers.

Closely held Beneficial, incorporated in Nevada, filed patent-infringement suits against Google in 2007 and 2009, and the two sides reached an agreement in which Google paid for a license to the patents. That 2010 accord also covered customers using Google's DoubleClick advertising product including Autotrader.com and Demand Media, Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said.

"Beneficial went back on the terms of its own license agreement, pursuing our customers for simply using our licensed services," Matt Kallman, a Google spokesman, said in a statement. "This is a great outcome that the jury worked hard to get right."

The patents relate to playing games on a network and a networking system for advertising. Beneficial argued that the customers were only licensed under certain circumstances, which didn't apply in this case, according to court records. Beneficial lawyer Elizabeth DeRieux of Capshaw DeRieux in Gladewater, Texas, didn't provide a comment.

The tactic by technology companies of claiming customers are covered by a patent license has its limits. Apple sought to invalidate patents asserted against developers of applications for its iPhone and iPad tablet computer. The patent owner, Lodsys LLC, settled with all of Apple's customers, thus pushing Apple out of the case, and then proceeded against other developers.

Federal law says suits can be filed against anyone who makes, uses, sells or offers to sell a product that infringes a U.S. patent. Sometimes the product manufacturer can't be identified, isn't subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts because it only operates overseas, or the product is modified by the customer.

In those instances, users or sellers have to be sued, said Robert Stoll of Drinker Biddle in Washington, who formerly ran patent operations at the patent office.

It's only been since 2011 or so that firms who buy up patents to seek royalties, known by the pejorative "troll," have been going after the users of products made by well-known companies like Google and Adobe, Rao said.

The technology companies can be made to cover any lawsuit costs incurred by their customers, so resolving a single suit avoids multiple payouts. It also just makes good business sense.

"People want to make sure they've got their reputation maintained with their user community," Stoll said. "I wouldn't be buying their products if they didn't step in to protect me."

If a company proves its product doesn't infringe a patent, then all of its customers are off the hook. Should the company invalidate the patent, then anyone sued by the patent owner would be in the clear. Adobe has several trials scheduled for this year, Rao said.

"We'll use all of the tactics to try to take down the patent trolls," Rao said. "The problem is that, while we're able to step in and defend our customers in many district courts, the pace of these litigations is just growing."

Congress is considering legislation that would put suits against end users on hold until litigation is resolved between the manufacturer and patent owner.

In the meantime, more suits like those filed by Google and Adobe, could be in the offing.

"It makes good company sense," Stoll said.

1
Text Only
Business
  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 18, 2014

  • WSCC HILL.jpg Hill hits the ground running at Wallace State

    Marcie Hill of Double Springs likes taking on new challenges. As an 18-year veteran of the education system, Hill has taught first grade, sixth grade and served as a reading coach to students and teachers in Kindergarten through sixth grade.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • VIDEO: A boom in firework sales

    This year could be quite the boom for fireworks sales across the U.S. According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, or the APA, sales are already off to a good start.

    July 3, 2014

  • Edward Jones Recognized as 2014 Most Valuable Employer for Military by CivilianJobs.com

    Local financial services firm Edward Jones in the Cullman-area was named a 2014 Most Valuable Employer (MVE) for Military by CivilianJobs.com, recognizing the firm's deep committment to recruiting, training and retaining military veterans as financial advisors.
     

    June 23, 2014

  • CRMC welcomes Harrison.jpg CRMC Welcomes Adam Harrison, DO to the Medical Staff

    Cullman Regional Medical Center (CRMC) is pleased to welcome Adam Harrison, DO to the Medical Staff. Dr. Harrison is originally from Cullman and graduated from Cullman High School in 2002. He obtained his bachelor of biomedical science degree from Auburn University in 2006, and attended Wallace State Community College prior to Auburn. He received his degree in osteopathic medicine in 2010 from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine Georgia Campus in Suwanee, Ga. He successfully completed an internship through Columbus Regional Medical Center in Columbus, Ga., in 2011. He will complete his residency through UAB Family Medicine in Huntsville, Ala.
     

    June 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Deadly guardrails spearing drivers is whistleblower's crusade

    Harman is suing Trinity Highway and its Dallas-based owner, Trinity Industries Inc., alleging that it made quiet design changes that transformed guardrail systems across the U.S. into potentially deadly hazards.

    June 12, 2014

  • google-seo-search-results-screenshot.jpg Your new boss is going to Google you, so make sure she likes what she sees

    This is what a professional online reputation management "campaign" looks like: four people — one patched in via video — around a conference room table, jotting notes on laptops, carefully examining every trace of a client's digital existence and plotting a strategy to improve it.

    June 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Merchants Bank promotes 1.jpg Merchants Bank promotes four officers

    The Board of Directors of Merchants Bank of Alabama, a community bank since 1907, recently announced the promotions of four key officers.
    Kerry Hanvey was promoted from vice president of retail banking to senior vice president of operations. Kerry joined the bank in 1992 and has served in various positions over this 22- year period. Kerry is responsible for bank wide operations for the five bank offices.
     

    June 11, 2014 4 Photos

  • Chamber's June Small Biz of Month.jpg Chamber's June Small Business of the Month winner

    The Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce recently awarded their Small Business of the Month award to Quick Tire Sales of Cullman. The award is given monthly to a local small business that meets nomination requirements. Victor Quick of Quick Tires Sales was thrilled for their business to be selected for this honor.
     

    June 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • $15 minimum wage puts Seattle in uncharted waters

    Depending on which pundit is nattering away, this means Seattle is either going to fall off the map and become a "Mad Max"-style economic wasteland or transform into an egalitarian utopia that inspires sweeping pro-labor activism nationwide.

    June 9, 2014