Drew Curtis: How I beat a patent troll


Drew Curtis is creator of Fark.com – an internet news aggregator.


In January 2011, Fark was sued along with MSN, reddit, yahoo for violation of a patent. The patent was for “creation and distibution of news releases via email”. This happens all the time, where a simple thing that is already happening can be patented, especially for a new emergent technology. These ‘Patent Trolls’ often sue major companies, ending in out of court settlements allowing them to claim they won the case.

The flaw in the case against Fark was that news release has a specific meaning in media – a press release by a company. Drew believed this meant he was not in violation, but a quirk in patent law is that the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove they have not violated the patent. Best case is that this can cost $2million and take 18 months to prove if they win. Most of the other companies in this case opted to settle out of court despite none of them violating the patent.

When Drew demanded screenshots showing where Fark had violated the patent, his troll was very quick to want a settlement: immediately demanding Drew’s “Best and final offer”. He offered nothing and no non disclosure agreement, and they accepted. This allowed him to talk about his experience in a way most other companies could not.

What Drew learnt about this case

  • Don’t fight the patent, fight the infringement – it’s a lot easier to prove that you haven’t infringed.
  • Either say you have no money, or that you’d rather spend money fighting the troll instead of giving it to them. Patent trolls need to recover their money, and if they’re less convinced they’ll get anything they are no longer interested in pursuing the case.
  • Tell them you will make this process as annoying and painful and difficult for them. These are the strategies a patent troll will use on you, but they need a quick return so it works really well when you reverse it.

“Do not negotiate with terrorists” – lawsuits from patent trolls have cost the US economy more every year than the all time cost of terrorists on US soil. Patent law is big, and driven by the needs of industries that want to protect inventors (healthcare industry) versus producers. These forces are on opposite ends of the patent spectrum, and patent trolls manage to exist in the gaps between them.

My Thoughts

Good summary of the dangers of patent law, and how to fight a frivolous lawsuit. Drew presents well and has a lot to tell us in such a short talk.

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