CopyTele, a “patent enforcement entity” based in New York, has filed a patent infringement suit against Microsoft in connection with its Skype IP calling and messaging service, now used by 280 million people every month. The two patents in question come from Secure Web Conference Corporation, a subsidiary of CopyTele. They are 6,856,686 B2 (’686 Patent), and 6,856,687 B2 (’687 Patent), respectively covering “method and apparatus for securing e-mail attachments” and “portable telecommunication security device.” “The Patents-in-Suit, generally speaking, relate to secure web-based peer-to-peer communications,” CopyTele writes in its complaint.
If things go CopyTele’s way, this is just the beginning: Robert Berman, the CEO of CopyTele, tells TechCrunch that there are between 90 and 100 web conferencing companies that CopyTele believes are also violating the same patents. “This is a $4 billion industry,” he said. “This is the initiation of what will be a broader patent enforcement campaign.”
CopyTele will have to get in line for its Skype suit: as of last month, the Microsoft subsidiary is also being sued by VirnetX over patent infringement claims (for the second time; they’d already settled past claims). A case brought by a company called Via Vadis, both in Europe and the U.S. back in 2011, around the time that the deal between Microsoft and Skype was first announced, was thrown out in a German court in January.
Nor are these the first patent infringement suits that CopyTele has brought against the tech community. In January, it filed suits against E Ink and AU Optronics Corp, related to technology used in products like Amazon’s Kindle and the Nook from Barnes & Noble, among others.
CopyTele is also amassing other patent portfolios and plans suits against other entities. These include companies that offer loyalty programs. It’s also bought a Windows patent portfolio (for actual windows — not Microsoft Windows).
Companies like Google, BlackBerry and Earthlink have lobbied against patent trolls and what it calls “patent privateering,” when patent enforcement entities make deals with larger companies to take over their portfolios and bring cases against competitors. But Berman paints himself as something of a patent enforcement crusader and takes issue with the categorically negative picture painted around patent trolls.
“I think every patent case needs to be judged on their own merits,” he said. “Just as there are good and bad personal injury lawyers, there are good and bad patent assertion companies. I don’t think it’s fair to assess every company that doesn’t make products as a villain. We are not in the nuisance lawsuit business, particularly when large companies make money out of licensing. What gives large companies the right to do this and not small companies?”
As of today, Senator Charles Schumer is also wading into these waters with proposed legislation that will change how these kinds of cases are brought to court. He’s suggesting that each suit should be reviewed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before it can proceed through the court system, so that it can vet the cases and decide whether they have any merit on patent grounds. In Schumer’s estimation this should ferret out illegitimate claims while letting genuine patent violations proceed along the costly route to court appearance, or settlement. In theory, if this legislation passes, if CopyTele (or any other company) believes that it has a legit case, it should have nothing to worry about.