Rackspace is best known as a cloud computing pioneer, but it’s also also known for something else: the company has an implacable hatred of patent trolls — the parasites of the technology world which bleed productive companies with old patents and dirty legal tactics.
Troll victims usually settle, but last year [company]Rackspace[/company] decided to take one for the team by fighting a patent troll named Rotatable that claimed a monopoly on screen displays that rotate — you know, the feature that lets displays rotate as a device turns. The feature has been common on smartphones since Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, but the troll still decided to sue everyone from [company]Apple[/company] to [company]Netflix[/company] to [company]WholeFoods[/company].
The troll gave Rackspace a chance to settle for $75,000 but the company decided instead to try and stomp the troll to death by using a new appeals process (known as inter partes review) that became available at the U.S. Patent Office last year. The legal gambit worked, as Rackspace announced in a blog post on Monday:
Rotatable Technologies is now an ex-patent troll. I say “ex-troll” because its patent, US Pat. No. 6,326,978, has been declared unpatentable […]
This means that Rackspace will not pay one penny to this troll, nor will Apple, Netflix, Electronic Arts, Target, Whole Foods or any of the other companies sued by Rotatable for how they use screen rotation technology in their apps.
As the blog post notes, this is good news not just for Rackspace but for myriad other companies that use the common rotating screen feature. (Alas, other companies may have already settled with Rotatable before its patent fell; since settlements include non-disclosure agreements, it can be hard to know just how many people a troll has mugged).
The Rackspace victory comes amid a spate of good news on the patent troll front. In recent months, courts have begun using a new Supreme Court standard to shred software patents, and several notorious trolls have seen their share price collapse.
The defeat of Rotatable is also a further validation of the new inter partes review system, which allows defendants a relatively speedy way to challenge bad patents before an administrative law judge.
Unfortunately, the basic business model of patent trolling — which relies on forcing victims to make a choice between settling or an exorbitant legal fight — remains largely intact since Senate Democrats killed a patent reform bill this spring. As a result, the tech sector will have to continue to rely on companies like Rackspace, which are willing to pay to kill trolls even though it would cost less to settle with them.