By SLS Legal Research and Writing Intern Brynna Bolt
|"New-Troll-1" by EFF Photos is licensed under CC BY 2.0|
Chances are you, or someone you know, has probably had an idea for a new mobile app. Before you take the development of your idea any further, though, there are some things you should know about patent trolls.
Patent trolls typically do not manufacture new products or develop new ideas, but instead purchase intentionally broad patents from bankrupt companies in need of funds. Then, when these patents are inevitably infringed upon, the troll can threaten or use litigation to force infringers to pay for their use of the patented technology or idea.
How does this affect you and your app? In the past, patent trolls have targeted small app developers based on various aspects of their design, including in-app purchasing technology and even various lines of commonly used code. Legal action can then result in either a simple solution, like the payment of a licensing fee, or prolonged and expensive lawsuits. Unfortunately, patent infringement lawsuits have become so prevalent that being sued by a patent troll has become a common occurrence for companies and entrepreneurs.
While coalitions and lawmakers have been attempting for years to amend patent laws to prevent this type of “troll” behavior, progress has been slow. In the meantime any future app-designers are advised to take certain steps to protect themselves.
A thorough search for preexisting and relevant patents should be conducted through the U.S. Patent and Trademark office prior to placing anything on the market. If afterwards you receive a notice of infringement, contact Student Legal Services before responding. Also look into acquiring “patent troll insurance”, a type of intellectual property insurance meant to safeguard businesses from claims brought forth by trolls.
As an additional way to offer help, a number of law schools from across the nation have banded together to create the Application Developers Alliance Law School Patent Troll Defense Network, which offers free legal services to app developers and small entrepreneurs threatened by patent trolls. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson School of Law offers free legal assistance for solo designers or inventors, small businesses, and nonprofits at their Patent Clinic located in San Diego. The clinic largely focuses on patent application preparation and filing, application prosecution up to the point of issuance, appeals, and any problems with licensing.
So if you dream of being the next Colin Kroll or Mark Zuckerberg, remember these tips, do your research, and be wary of the patent trolls.