To protect small businesses and non-profit organizations in the state, Vermont Attorney General (AG) Bill Sorrell has filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin MPHJ Technology Investments, LLC from purportedly demanding that these entities pay $1,000 per employee for a license to use the company’s patent “on the process of scanning documents and attaching them to email via a network.” Vermont v. MPHJ Tech. Invs., LLC, No. 282-5-13-Wncu (Vt. Super. Ct., filed May 22, 2013).
According to the complaint, the defendant “has engaged in unfair and deceptive acts” and “operates in Vermont through forty wholly owned shell subsidiary companies” each of which “claims to be located at 40 East Main Street, #19, Newark, Delaware 19711, a UPS store.” The AG also alleges that the patents the defendant claims to own and refers to in its letters to state businesses and nonprofits “were previously the subject of litigation brought by the prior owner of the patents. Those lawsuits were voluntarily dismissed by the patent-holder prior to any determination of their validity. No court has ruled on the validity of the patents.”
In addition to permanent injunctive relief, the AG seeks restitution, civil penalties of up to $10,000 for each violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act, and investigative and litigation costs and fees. According to the AG, the Vermont Legislature recently passed “first-in-the-nation legislation creating a new tool for targets of patent trolling and for the Attorney General to address the issue.” As expected, Governor Peter Shumlin (D) signed the law (H. 299, Act No. 0044), which, among other matters, addresses bad faith assertions of patent infringement. See Office of the (Vermont) Attorney General Press Release, May 22, 2013.
Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an organization that brings or defends lawsuits to protect the digital rights of consumers and the general public, has launched a campaign “to bust a key patent being used to threaten podcasters.” According to EFF, Personal Audio LLC has sued a number of podcasters and issued demand letters to small podcasting operations to enforce patents after having “tried and failed at its attempt to make an audio player.” EFF seeks donations and podcasting prior art—publications from before October 2, 1996—“that disclose similar or identical ideas.” EFF apparently plans to bring an inter partes review proceeding before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to invalidate the patents.