Trolling Effects site aims to fight patent trolls with crowdsourcing

Electronic Frontier Foundation rolls out a website that provides a place for patent-troll targets to expose their aggressors

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today unveiled Trolling Effects, a site where users can anonymously submit and search demand letters they've received from purported patent trolls, learn more about these "bad actors," and learn ways to navigate and fix the nation's broken patent system.

The launch of Trolling Effects could mark a key step in the ongoing battle against patent trolls, a term generally applied to companies that assert patents as their sole business model, rather than creating any products or services based on those patents. Patent trolls have long been the costly bane of technology companies, many of which -- including Microsoft, Intel, and Rackspace -- have come forward over the years calling for reform to the patent system.

The purpose of the Trolling Effects site is to provide some transparency into demand letters and help curb abusive suits, an action President Barack Obama called for back in June.

"A combination of trolls who send demand letters but rarely sue, scheming businesses that transfer patent ownership to shell companies, and poor record-keeping infrastructure and practices has resulted in a hazy patent system where the lack of transparency has become a competitive tool," wrote EFF's Adi Kamdar and Julie Samuels in the Trolling Effects blog. "We've created a simple tool that will take away one of the patent trolls favorite tools -- secrecy."

The Trolling Effects site includes a mechanism for submitting patent demand letters. Submitters may opt to have information redacted, such as the recipients' names or identifying products and services.

Users can also search the repository of submitted letters by such criteria as patent number, sender, or keywords (such as "Lodsys" or "scanning"). There's a page for viewing patent owners, which provides users' insights into who is behind different demands. The site also features comprehensive guides to the patent system and a blueprint for patent reform.

EFF envisions two primary uses for the site:

  • Give those facing troll threats information about the specific threats (including who is really sending them), along with general information about patent law and the system that might help them navigate the legal process and better understand their options
  • Collect sorely needed data for journalists, academics, and policy makers to help them better understand the scope of the patent troll problem and allow them to make a better case for real reform

As of early Thursday morning, 13 demand letters had been submitted. Four came from Innovative Wireless Solutions (IWS), which holds three patents pertaining to an "information network access apparatus and methods for communicating information packets via telephone lines."

IWS asserted that companies infringe on its patents by "making, using, and selling an IEEE 802.11 wireless network that includes a wireless access point connected to an Ethernet network."

Three letters came from Personal Audio, which holds a patent for a "system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence," that is "technologies commonly used in podcasting," per one of the submitted demand letters.

Two more came from Lodsys, which holds various patents including for "methods and systems for gathering information from units of a commodity across a network." In its demand letters, the company asserts that "the Lodsys Patents are directed to systems and methods for providers of products and/or services to interact with users ... to gather information from those users and transmit [it] to the provider."

According to Lodsys, a broad array of inventions use its patents, including products and services that provide online help, that conduct online subscription renewal, and that provide for online purchasing.

Joining EFF in rolling out Trolling Effects are organizations including App Developers Alliance; Ask Patents; Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at NYU School of Law; Engine Advocacy; Public Knowledge; PubPat; and the Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic at Berkeley Law.

This story, "Trolling Effects site aims to fight patent trolls with crowdsourcing," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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