From the Editor: Rise of the Trolls

In-plant Graphics Editor Bob Neubauer

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.

Bob has served as editor of In-plant Graphics since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited more than 130 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Graphics.

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