Patent Trolling: How it Felt, What it Did and What I am Doing About It

Being sued by a patent troll felt surreal and scary. I hated the time suck and the money lost and the horrific sense of injustice. And I was afraid other trolls would decide we were wounded, vulnerable to a quick hit. Like many troll victims I kept my mouth shut, my head down and hoped the whole mess would go away.

Privately I raged against the USPTO for issuing such obvious, ambiguous dreck. And I railed against the people who patented (among many things) entering menu data into a form so the menu can be displayed on a device. I paid my lawyers and cried. Some nights I had to slide my hands under my pillow to keep my fingers from clenching in tight fists. The overwhelming feeling of injustice was ever-present. Some douchebag effectively claimed ownership of a massive swathe of the internet with lawsuits against Apple, Eventbrite, Hyatt, Micros, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Fandango, OpenTable, Expedia, GrubHub, Hotel Tonight, Starbucks, and many startups like Ordr.in. What patent, granted in 1998, could possibly be relevant to this range of companies? None of us, even direct competitors with their own patents, are suing each other.

Between the normal challenges of building a company and the added burdens of the lawsuit, we failed to thrive and shut down this month. I feel shitty in many ways but one I way I feel free and excited is the fight against B.S. patent trolling. Come and get me suckers! My company is gone, I’m broke, and I have a megaphone.

What do I care about most? Right now it is passing HR 9, The Innovation Act, working its’ way through the House. A companion bill is expected soon in the Senate. These bills focus on patent litigation abuse which is the hammer trolls use to pound their victims. Check out the App Alliance press release for perspective and join their Troll Fighter movement. You are especially important to this fight if you live in a State represented by Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee or are represented by members of the House Judiciary Committee (or live close to their districts). Send an email and let them know you are in favor of The Innovation Act.

And if you have been attacked by a troll your personal story has power to open minds, to counteract the through-the-looking glass logic of the anti-reform movement. I have seen opinions change in a simple conversation. Legislators and their staff only know what they are taught. We must teach them this is pro-innovator, pro-startup and pro-jobs. If you have a story about being trolled, please contact me or the App Alliance. You can truly make a difference, even confidentially. When I was first sued I did an anonymous video interview about the experience. It was #1 on Reddit for an afternoon. Think of how many people got the message! There are ways to communicate that don’t leave you feeling exposed.

Patent reform is a bi-partisan issue that has many supporters, often with differing reasons. That is what makes this a powerful moment. But it won’t happen without support from the community. This is what I am devoting myself to while I get my feet back under me. It is a worthy cause for us all.