The just-ended DailyDOOH Digital Signage Investor Conference was held in a conference room of a big NYC law firm, so one of the intriguingly handy things was having specialty practice lawyers directly speaking or dipping in on the presentations.
On Day 2, a patent lawyer was pulled into the discussion and led a fascinating chat about the patent trolls that have shown up in this sector.
Marc Friedman of Dentons did an admittedly brief review of the activity to date in this sector and offered his point of view and advice on how the industry should proceed.
I won’t get too deep into the details, as what’s the point of helping the trolls, but the nut of it was that the industry needs to start responding in a more unified fashion. The companies that are solely in the business of going after companies and their customers for licenses and/or settlements on patent infringements are very happy if they can pick off the weak of the herd on a one by one basis.
He suggested there are a number of ways that companies can join forces to not only more effectively respond to the trolls, but also investigate if the patents and claims are even valid. As I have suggested in the recent past, we have two associations in the space that have done little or nothing in this area even though patents are developing into a massive problem, and one that’s not going away.
One of the most interesting things Friedman said was that while Activision – 0ne of the most active s0-called trolls – is currently active on claims involving four patents, there are seven more patents pending. So even if your company settled on an infringement claim and you bought a license, that doesn’t mean you are clear. You need a portfolio license, or the patent-holder might come at you again for a different patent. And if you have settled, you have self-declared as willing to settle instead of fight, and are therefore marked (Friedman didn’t say that part).
One CEO said privately the industry absolutely needs to develop a pooled, unified response. However, another CEO whose firm settled and acquired a license, said he invested a LOT of money and determined licensing was the best option. He also suggested he spent a year on the thing – somewhat more than the overnight look Friedman had.
Whatever the case, this is a huge issue. The disturbing thing is the trolls, to date, are relatively small entities, but the big ones are coming. One CEO is already dealing with that, on claims involving WiFi usage.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than 13 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia.