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Patent Troll Targeting Users of Scanners; Wants $1000/Employee 227

Posted by Soulskill
from the scan-middle-finger-and-hit-send dept.
New submitter earlzdotnet writes "A new patent troll is in town, this time targeting the users of technology, rather than the creators. They appear to hold a process patent for 'scanning a document and then emailing it.' They are targeting small businesses in a variety of locations and usually want somewhere between $900 to $1200 per employee for 'infringement' of their patent. As with most patent trolls, they go by a number of shell companies, but the original company name appears to be Project Paperless LLC. Joel Spolsky said in a tweet that 'This is organized crime, plain and simple...' I tend to agree with him. When will something be done about this legal mafia?"
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Patent Troll Targeting Users of Scanners; Wants $1000/Employee

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  • Huh?? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZorinLynx (31751) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:43PM (#42453827) Homepage

    How does this hold any legal water at all? Isn't the manufacturer of a product liable for patent infringements, not the end user?

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      It doesn't even make sense as extortion. They are setting the fees so high that companies may be tempted to view settling as the more expensive alternative.

      • It doesn't even make sense as extortion. They are setting the fees so high that companies may be tempted to view settling as the more expensive alternative.

        If they want to play Mafia games, then there is a small danger that some of these companies they extort may find that pooling resources and paying someone $10K or so plus expenses to take out these turds may be a more economical solution than either paying the troll or settling.

    • Re:Huh?? (Score:5, Informative)

      by maxwell demon (590494) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:48PM (#42453895) Journal

      It's a process patent, according to the summary. I'd say it's the end user who does the process of scanning, then sending the scanned page by email.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Most office scanners do that process themselves these days, I think. You scan the image and enter the address into the scanner/printer/fax and it sends it.

        • I'd hesitate to say "most" there. Many do that, yes. Others are plugged directly into a computer so the scanned file can be bookmarked, blacked-out, or touched up before it gets emailed. When I was a fileroom peon in accounting I "infringed" on this process something like 50 times an hour.
        • by Apothem (1921856)
          Heck not even just the office scanners, most all-in-one printers that you can get for your house now do this as well. At this point it's such a generalized feature, that they're basically just targeting the general consumer at this point.
      • Re:Huh?? (Score:5, Informative)

        by CastrTroy (595695) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:53PM (#42453957) Homepage
        Sorry, but this patent is stupid. This is basically sending an attachment in an email. And the patent is on where the attachment originated from (the scanner). How this is not obvious to anybody who has ever sent an email with an attachment is quite beyond me.
        • The US patent process is clearly broken and needs serious repair, like a lot of things in this country.
          • by rtb61 (674572)

            It is about time that companies should be able to sue the US patents office for falsely assigning patents. If those patent lawyering favouring idiots were to be made financially liable for the stupid decisions we might see some improvement in that organisation. It is becoming all to apparent the ready willingness to approve the most stupid patents has been created by legal lobbyists and corrupt political appointees.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          It is obvious, but it will cost you £££,£££ to prove that in a court of law. Cunningly these guys only want £,£££ to leave you alone, so the business case for paying is also obvious.

        • Go go, Jury nullification.
      • Nope, if you read the letter that was sent to companies, they have a list of cases they say are infringing. One of them was using a scanner which had a automated scan and email function built in.

    • Re:Huh?? (Score:5, Informative)

      by DJ Jones (997846) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:52PM (#42453937) Homepage
      Yes, except in this case, the patent office allowed someone to patent a process and not an invention so general legal logic goes out the window right there.

      That and those fines appear to fall just beneath what it would cost to get a patent lawyer to fight the charge so on a pure revenue basis, it's cheaper to pay the ransom.
    • by L. J. Beauregard (111334) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:54PM (#42453975)

      (a) Except as otherwise provided in this title, whoever without authority makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention, within the United States or imports into the United States any patented invention during the term of the patent therefor, infringes the patent.

      • Just as I thought. It's not the legal mafia that is at fault here. It's the intellectual property system that is the law of the land. We need a better system that rewards inventors and creators for their hard work but does not infringe on the right of the people to be free.

        • by idontgno (624372)

          It's not the legal mafia that is at fault here. It's the intellectual property system that is the law of the land.

          Hence the word "legal" in "legal mafia".

          Abusing the law for fun and profit has a long and time-honored history. What makes you think anything will change?

        • by Scarletdown (886459) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @08:35PM (#42456473) Journal

          Just as I thought. It's not the legal mafia that is at fault here. It's the intellectual property system that is the law of the land.

          The fault is shared equally with both our imaginary property system AND the sociopathic assholes who choose to abuse it like this.

      • by mug funky (910186)

        you should bold the word "invention", which this patent is not.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Both can be liable: the manufacturer for making the product, and the end user (or other downstream customer) for using it. But as a practical matter, a manufacturer will often end up defending an infringement lawsuit against its customers (and some actually commit to doing so in their EULAs). If a patentee is actually looking for real damages, they generally want the manufacturer to be involved in the case (often a deeper pocket than the typical customer).

      But in a situation like this, it's clear that cour

    • Re:Huh?? (Score:5, Funny)

      by mug funky (910186) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:10PM (#42454161)

      legal precedent: arkell v pressdram

    • It does not hold water. Whoever was trying to shake him down could never have won a single case. He brought the case against the "patent holder" not vice-versa. The solicitation was like a fake yellow pages ad (mail it to 10,000, see if 1% are dumb enough to pay) of a decade ago. What is scary is what may happen in other nations: China's courts are starting to look into enforcement of USA and European patent and trademarks (at our insistence) and if they aren't lucky may bet what we asked for.
    • by bhagwad (1426855)

      As a responsible citizen, it's up to you to ensure that whatever you do doesn't violate any patents.

      Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

      Enjoy!

      • Re:Huh?? (Score:4, Funny)

        by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @06:14PM (#42455019)

        As a responsible citizen, it's up to you to ensure that whatever you do doesn't violate any patents.

        Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

        Enjoy!

        Sorry, I already patented a method by which an individual analyzes manual physical processes to ascertain any potential conflict with applicable licenseable material.

    • by sribe (304414)

      How does this hold any legal water at all? Isn't the manufacturer of a product liable for patent infringements, not the end user?

      No. All users of infringing products can be held liable. Most companies have the good sense not to go after end users, but it is perfectly legal. Sucks, but that's the law.

    • Patent infringement occurs when another "makes, uses, offers to sell, or sells any patented invention." 35 U.S.C. 271(a). If the company actually held a patent on the process of scanning documents and emailing them, then they really could sue users for infringement. In this case, though, that process is clearly not patentable since the process of scanning and emailing a document "was known or used by others in this country ... before the invention thereof by the applicant for patent." 35 U.S.C. 102(a).

    • How does this hold any legal water at all?

      You act as if there are a set of rational rules regarding intellectual property laws, when reality quite clearly demonstrates there's nothing at all logical about any of it.

      I keep expecting to hear that patent trolls are going to make anti-patents and will be able to sue you for NOT using them.

  • (Right, Upper hand corner of this page for me.)
    "Wondering what your patents might be worth in the current market?"
    Wow! I can't resist selling my patents!
    Ahem! Well, back to /.
    'Those lousy trolls, I wish they would just go away.'

  • come get us bitches (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Food Concepts Inc
    2551 Parmenter St
    Middleton, Wi
    53562

    I fucking double dare you.

  • by Phics (934282) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:55PM (#42453977)

    ...this. [stop-proje...erless.com]

  • by Damastus the WizLiz (935648) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:55PM (#42453979)
    Has anyone patented the process of sueing people for violations of patents? If not someone better get on it quickly. Millions of dollars in settlements are being lost every minute now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:56PM (#42453989)

    I don't e-mail people my scans, I upload them to Megaupload and send them the link.

    Foolproof.

  • by alen (225700) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @04:58PM (#42454007)

    In the old days you would send a fake purchase order for some low amount to finance and demand to get paid. This is just another scam like that

    I guess people need to be outraged about something

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:03PM (#42454065) Journal
    So many people just shrug their shoulders and show no interest at all in any of these outrageous patients. Sort of, "only raving lunatic nerds who read slashdot bother about it. The situation can't be that bad". When they suddenly face the prospect of being slapped with a law-suite they might sit up, take notice and stir up a storm. Like the fine print in the Instagram was not new or anything. Probably all those YouTube videos too have similar clauses. But nobody bothered. But suddenly it became a media frenzy.

    Let us be very helpful to this troll and send him names and addresses of all the congresscritters and judges who might have been in violation of the claimed patent. Some how get him to include the names of these figures whose power/IQ ratio approaches infinity. Then may be some reform might happen.

  • by cultiv8 (1660093) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:03PM (#42454073) Homepage
    According to http://stop-project-paperless.com/project-paperless-llc [stop-proje...erless.com], these guys: http://www.hkw-law.com./ [www.hkw-law.com]

    Public records indicate that each of the partners in the law firm of Hill, Kertscher, & Wharton are either managers, members, or organizers in one or more of the shell companies which in turn appear to have a stake in Project Paperless, LLC.

    • Ah, it brings out another approach to fight patent trolls: making it illegal for practicing lawyers to represent any entity in which they have stakes (including themselves, for completeness). Not that it's got a chance to happen in the USA, but, well, it's the case in many countries already.
  • Does it also cover scanning, adding a signature in photoshop, and then e-mailing? Oh crap, wait! Gotta patent this fast!

  • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:06PM (#42454095) Homepage Journal

    Her study of startups targeted by patent trolls found that when confronted with a patent demand, 22 percent ignored it entirely. Compare that with the 35 percent that decided to fight back and 18 percent that folded. Ignoring the demand was the cheapest option ($3,000 on average) versus fighting in court, which was the most expensive ($870,000 on average).

    So the best way to deal with trolls in the real world is the same as the online world: simply ignore them. If they want to sue you, then make them go through all the expense and trouble of making the case--most of the time they won't even bother. These are basically old timey protection rackets. They're trying to put the minimum amount of effort in to get the biggest return. They might try to make an example of a company or two, but it probably won't be you.

  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:09PM (#42454137)

    When will something be done about this legal mafia?

    Nothing will ever be done because every major company is playing the game.

    Google, Apple, Microsoft, IBM . . . . . every big company with deep pockets has been hit by patent trolls. So why don't they all get together and use their considerable lobbying power to demand that congress change the law? Why? Because they don't really want the law changed. They want to be able to whack somebody with a patent lawsuit when it suits them.

    Bogus patents are the new nuclear weapons. Everyone knows they are bad and destructive, they serve no useful purpose and should be eliminated. But nobody is willing to actually do that because some day they might need a weapon to use against a competitor. That's the new business model. Litigation instead of competition.

    • Everyone knows they are bad and destructive, they serve no useful purpose and should be eliminated.

      Um, nuclear weapons have arguably saved humanity from a third world war. Patents have accomplished what, again?

  • that the companies that they are suing are scanning to email?

    • by chrismcb (983081)
      they don't, and they aren't sueing anyone. They send a mail out with some yes no questions. "do you have a scanner?" etc. Then it says you owe 1000 per employee.It sounds like they don't actually want to sue anyone.
      • by TheCarp (96830)

        I would assume that is exactly the case, especially given that the first person I showed this story to said that he had personally done this in the mid 90s, years before their claimed 2001 patent date....I have to assume that they know that they will get laughed out of court, were this to actually find a challenge.

  • I'll just scan the story and send out an email.

    Wait...what?

  • Prior Art (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jason Levine (196982) on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:18PM (#42454249)

    The patents were filed beginning in 1997. Does anyone know if scanners from 1996 were able to scan in a document, launch an e-mail application, and attach said document to the e-mail? A quick Google Groups search did uncover a "photo scanning service" that promised to scan your photo and send it to you via e-mail. https://groups.google.com/group/nyc.singles/browse_thread/thread/6b8e902ec9996435/a1a550f3f5398a27?hl=en&q=scan+attach+to+e-mail#a1a550f3f5398a27

    Also, for reference (and since people might not read the article), here are links to the patents in question:
    http://www.google.com/patents/US6185590
    http://www.google.com/patents/US6771381
    http://www.google.com/patents/US7477410
    http://www.google.com/patents/US7986426

    • Re:Prior Art (Score:4, Informative)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday January 02, 2013 @05:40PM (#42454559) Homepage Journal

      Does anyone know if scanners from 1996 were able to scan in a document, launch an e-mail application, and attach said document to the e-mail?

      Yes, Paperport [usnews.com] from Visoneer was one. The Mac version was AppleScriptable and people regularly did things like transfer scanned images into e-mails, Filemaker databases, etc.

      aside: the term TFS is looking for is "Legal Plunder". Bastiat coined it in 1850 in The Law [archive.org], and it was then an existing problem, so don't expect a quick resolution so long as the same power structures remain in place (people hate to admit that they're the ones with the role of being fleeced).

  • It seems that the perps in this scenario are using standard boilerplate forms to threaten lawsuits. Could some astute lawyer (IANAL) produce a standard boilerplate response form and offer it for a nominal fee? I think there is precedent for that in regards to a music copyright violation lawsuit-mill.

    • by Fnord666 (889225)

      Could some astute lawyer (IANAL) produce a standard boilerplate response form and offer it for a nominal fee?

      I believe that the proper reply can be found here [nasw.org].

  • we don't have employees do that there 3rd party contractors

  • When the government cares more about its citizens than patent holders. AKA when hell freezes over. If you reduce the power of the patent you not only stop these relatively small players but also degrade the worth of everyone's patents. Which hurts the rich and powerful.

  • FTA:

    In the end, Hill and his fellow lawyers at his small Atlanta firm, Hill, Kertscher and Wharton, didn’t have a lot of fight in them. Two weeks after he filed the third-party complaint, Project Paperless dropped its lawsuit. No settlement, no deal—they just went away. (As a result, the scanner makers never actually came to court.)

    That can't be where it ends. Where's the countersuit for legal fees? Compensation for the money required to do the prior-art search? There's protection (albeit not enough) from frivolous and vindictive (perhaps even defamatory, in this case) lawsuits.

    • by afidel (530433)

      What we need is the equivalent of anti-SLAPP for patents, some kind of quick process where a judge can examine the filing and make a summary judgement including awarding treble damages to the defendant for all costs incurred.

  • by apcullen (2504324) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @09:53AM (#42461151)

    Most businesses have now implemented stupid email "retention" policies to avoid law suits that require all email to be deleted after an insanely short time (my company has gone from 6 months to 1 month).
     
      If only the kept that old email, and could show just ONE scanned document being emailed prior to the patent, they'd have prior art.

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