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From the Editor: Rise of the Trolls

August 2013 By Bob Neubauer
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You may have heard something about "patent trolls"—shell companies that exist only to enforce their patents and seek money from alleged infringers. But you probably thought only high-tech companies were being targeted by these guys, right?

Hardly. They're coming after printers too.

Printing Industries of America recently warned its members of an "alarming" increase in the number of printers accused by trolls of infringing patents for technologies as commonplace as prepress workflow, computer-to-plate and Web-to-print. Even scarier for IPG readers: I talked with an in-plant manager whose in-plant is being pursued by a troll for using color management software. Plain old, off-the-shelf color management software. (As if in-plants don't have a tough enough time convincing their parent organizations to keep them around.)

Patent trolls seem to have gone into overdrive the past couple years. The New York Times says they are behind more than half of the 4,000 patent infringement lawsuits filed in the United States last year. President Obama recently took a stand against them by ordering the patent office to tighten scrutiny of overly broad patent claims and requiring patent holders to reveal their ties to other companies, among other things.

Last month, Printing Industries of California (PIC) alerted members about three law firms that have been sending letters to printers claiming they infringe their clients' patents simply by using standard graphic arts equipment. The Baker, Donelson law firm, representing CTP Innovations, is suing printers on the East Coast and in Texas for providing a plate-ready file to a networked printer, PIC said. Printers like Magna IV Color Imaging, American Printing Co., Best Press and others have been sued.

Think you're OK just using your MFP to scan and e-mail images? PIC said printers in Southern California have been receiving letters from Farney Daniels on behalf of BetNam, LLC. The patent in question, PIC reports, supposedly covers “a system having a digital copier/scanner/multifunction device with an interface to office equipment (or to the Web) for scanning and transmitting images electronically to a destination such as email applications, or local files.” The firm wants $1,000 per employee for past infringement and future licensing.

A number of small businesses have reportedly gotten hit with similar shake-down letters from an assortment of shell companies with six-letter names like AdzPro, GosNel, and FasLan, effectively stopping them from using a common, popular, store-bought technology.


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