Over the past decade, patent trolls (also called non-practicing entities or patent assertion entities) have been a thorn in the side of computer, electronics, communications, and e-commerce companies. More recently, there has been an uptick in patent trolls targeting energy companies. About a year ago, it became clear that patent trolls are turning their focus when Acacia, one of the largest patent assertion entities, opened an office in Houston and hired the former head IP counsel at Schlumberger Ltd. to lead its energy practice.
On January 26, 2015, Data Carriers LLC, a non-practicing entity, sued at least 15 energy companies alleging infringement of one of its patents (U.S. Patent 5,388,198).1 The complaints were filed in the Marshall division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, a venue known to be attractive to patent trolls.
Data Carrier’s patent describes a system that monitors a computer user’s keyboard and mouse activity and, based on predetermined templates, suggests alternative or more efficient ways of accomplishing what the user is trying to accomplish. For example, the patent describes an Excel spreadsheet that would suggest the use of the “@sum” shortcut whenever the user types the “+” key in a particular sequence and context. However, Data Carriers is not suing the energy companies for providing a useful Help or Tutorial tool that might use those features. Instead, Data Carriers alleges that its patent is infringed by the use of the “autocomplete” feature found on various websites.