A new lawsuit against Twitter underscores an emerging trend in patent litigation: patent lawyers suing over their own “inventions.” Often, these lawyers aren’t spending weekends tinkering in their garages with products in the making; rather, the sole evidence of their inventive spark comes in the form of the hundreds of pages of legalese and paperwork filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Twitter was sued this week by a company called VS Technologies LLC, which appears to have been created for the purposes of filing the patent suit.
Virginia corporate records show that VS Technologies was set up in September and has the same Alexandria, Va., address as the law office of Dinesh Agarwal, the patent lawyer who is the named inventor on the patent being used to sue.
The patent was issued to Agarwal in 2002, and he transferred it to VS Tech immediately after that company was created. The patent has one of those titles that is likely to set the tech blogs alight with “How-on-earth-did-that-ever-get issued?” sorts of comments. It’s on a “method and system for creating an interactive virtual community of famous people.”
The central role of patent lawyers in suits like this raises questions about the health of the U.S. patent system. Patent lawyers are insiders in this system, and an increasing number of them aren’t satisfied just with being very-expensive service providers to patent owners. They’re seeing the millions made by so-called patent trolls and are eager to get into the game themselves. The patent office simply isn’t set up to say no to a persistent applicant, and the patent lawyers know that as well as anybody.
Back in 2008, I published a story for American Lawyer’s magazine group profiling three lawyer-inventors, and at that time I was able to find close to 20 IP lawyers who were suing over their own “inventions.” That number has surely grown.
This is the fourth patent lawsuit filed against Twitter in its short life. Two of the lawsuits were filed in 2009 by companies that have actual services, TechRadium and Cooper Notification; and last May Twitter was sued in East Texas, along with many internet companies, by another lawyer-owned outfit called Stragent LLC. Twitter appears to have settled both the Stragent and TechRadium lawsuits, but the Cooper Notification suit is still being litigated.
Agarwal, his attorneys, and Twitter were all contacted for this story, and we’ll update it if we hear back.
» VS Technologies v. Twitter complaint [PDF]