California businesses get patent troll help from popular comedian

A comedian seeks to help California businesses oppose lawsuits brought by patent trolls while Congress scrambles to stem the frivolous claims.

California-based comedian, Adam Carolla, along with a number of popular podcasters, is publicly taking on a patent troll who argues that its company invented podcasting in the 1990s. The company claims that anyone who creates podcasts is infringing on patented intellectual property.

This bold - and vastly expensive - opposition to the patent troll's lawsuit has the potential to help numerous California businesses as well as others across the nation. A previous fight by Apple against the same company, however, cost Apple $8 million nearly three years ago so the stakes are high and the outcome uncertain.

What are patent trolls?

Non-practicing entities - also known as patent assertion entities or nonperforming entities - are companies that purchase or otherwise secure generic patents and then go in search of businesses that use technologies that may involve the use of the obscure patents. A non-practicing entity (NPE) does not actually produce any product of its own but merely "trolls" for businesses to sue for patent infringement.

Many emerging businesses targeted by a NPE - a patent troll - cannot afford to fight the civil lawsuit and are forced to settle out of court rather than close their doors. This is, some claim, the main objective of a patent troll.

U.S. government seeks to help

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan watchdog for the U.S. Congress, found that NPEs generated nearly 60 percent of all patent litigation claims last year. While the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office attempts to weed out overly broad patent applications, the office cannot keep up with the technology explosion and approves many generic patents that probably should have been rejected.

U.S. legislators, in an effort to stem the flow of frivolous lawsuits, are promoting a new bill that would require the loser in a patent case to pay the winner's costs in defending its position. Since such lawsuits can take multiple years and millions of dollars to resolve, the hope is that the bill will stop or slow down patent trolls.

Help for California businesses

Juries in some areas of the country are sympathetic to patent holders, viewing the NPEs as invention underdogs and treating the claims as moral dilemmas not business disputes. Patent trolls are relentless in their pursuit of claims against small businesses. Some send out thousands of letters claiming mom-and-pop shops owe a few thousand dollars each for licensing fees.

Carolla is bringing the issue to the public at the same time the U.S. government is pushing for legislation that can ban lawsuits against smaller companies - the end-users, not the makers - of the products and technology that supposedly are in violation. In the meantime, companies facing such lawsuits or receiving threatening letters from patent trolls should contact an experienced internet and business law attorney for assistance. A lawyer knowledgeable about technology and business-based lawsuits can help avoid or defend against such claims.

Keywords: patents, intellectual property, trademarks