Lodsys, the controversial “patent troll” that has sued everyone from the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) to Angry Birds, recently set its sights on a small web-software firm in France. Unable to afford a legal battle, the two-man company has come up with another tactic to push back against Lodsys’ legal threats.
GroupCamp is a Paris-based firm that provides web-based software to small business clients. In September, the company received a notorious “Lodsys letter” informing the owners they were infringing four patents. Such letters have been sent to dozens or hundreds of companies. The letters typically boast about “inventor” Dan Abelow‘s Ivy League education (he took business classes) and ask the recipient to purchase a license for the patents. You can see a sample Lodsys letter embedded below (apologies for the blurry text).
The Lodsys phenomenon gained widespread media attention after the company began to sue Android and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) app developers over an in-app purchasing method. Some developers have folded to the demand while others are hanging on in the hope that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Apple will rescue them. The latter has a license for the patents and has filed to intervene in a Texas court case on behalf of the developers. Meanwhile, Google has asked the USPTO to re-examine the patents for invalidity.
While the tech titans prepare to weigh in, small companies like GroupCamp are left to wait while a lawsuit hangs over their head. The primary patent it is accused of infringing relates to a method of exchanging information about a commodity and is the same one that Lodsys has used to sue the New York Times Company and Hewlett-Packard.
“We’re not experts and we can’t engage in a legal battle with Lodsys,” said GroupCamp co-founder Dickel Sooriah, who said he was surprised that Lodsys had branched out from suing app developers to cloud-based companies like his. Even though his company his based in France, it could face liability in the US for any American-related transactions. This threat led a number of London app developers to yank their products out of Apple’s U.S. app store this summer.
Sooriah and his partner can’t afford to pay for a full-blown litigation campaign so they are trying something else. They have opened an online resource center called “Joining forces against Lodsys patents” where defendants can share papers and compare strategies. It already contains documents and humorous summaries of their encounters so far with the American legal system. GroupCamp is also hoping the forum will be a place where people will post so-called “prior art” to challenge the patents (a patent will fail for lack of novelty if an earlier document shows the same invention).
But what Sooriah is really hoping for is assistance from a US patent attorney who can contribute advice about navigating the litigation process. While Lodsys has targeted app developers around the world, Sooriah believes this is the first time that it has reached deep into Europe to target a non-app based company.
Patent trolls have already given rise to various push-back efforts in the United States, including an app legal defense fund led by a Texas intellectual property and as a patent defense “boot camp” hosted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.