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Rackspace knocks out patent troll that claimed monopoly on rotating smartphone displays

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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.

2 Responses to “Rackspace knocks out patent troll that claimed monopoly on rotating smartphone displays”

  1. As adults, supposedly sensible adults, I am concerned at the our attitudes toward seeing something that is broken and doing nothing about it.

    The US Patent Office is broken. Most informed Americans know this, including tech companies and politicians. It’s like watching a person try to add one more piece of trash to an overflowing trash container.

    “Dump the damn trashcan already!”

    I think about how younger people watch how older, supposedly more experienced, adults handle these type of situations. Fleecing of Americans using crooked tactics is not new. Still, no lessons are learned and, therefore, no fixed implemented.

    We talk about leaving a world were our children can enjoy and prosper. Yet, how can a future adult prosper when, as soon as he tries to start a new business, unscrupulous lawyers and extortionists are lying it wait with lawsuits.

    Lawsuits that a known beforehand to be invalid, but valid enough to cause fear.

    Again, it is easy to have disgust for the patent trolls and parasites, but the real problem lies with the US Congress and the US Patent Office, as well as some suspect federal courts (e.g., East Texas).

    Patent trolls are simply using their rights as granted by the approved patents. The federal courts and Congress (et al) are supposed to provide the checks-and-balance to offset any and all oversights. Since Congress is filled with lawyers, I am not surprised at their reluctance to destroy possible future endeavors.

    When faced with two enemies, choosing to focus on the weaker of the two is usually the strategy employed. The true enemy in the patent trolling war is the US Patent Office and its allies.

    Time to call a snake a snake.