For small tech companies and startups, patent trolls are a serious problem.
The cost of defending one case can often dwarf the costs of settling several cases. The IPR process is good, but it's still not that cheap, and not always certain to work.
Also, when the patent trolls descend, it's not just one case. Often one patent troll will sue several companies using the same patent, and another common occurrence is seeing several trolls suing the same company over several different patents.
Below are three tips on how small tech companies and startups can fight off the patent trolls.
1. Crush the Trolls, Never Settle
Patent trolls are rarely ready, willing, or able, to take a case to trial. The modus operandi of a patent troll is to file suit, settle for as much as possible, then find a new target. If the company you represent earns a reputation as one that will not roll over in a patent battle, then the trolls will eventually learn to back-off.
Unfortunately, this strategy may be more difficult for companies without legal departments or litigation friendly budgets. However, after the first patent troll case gets filed, it might be worth pushing for the company's budget to include more funding for litigation. Although getting new investors interested in putting their money behind you while litigation is pending, after you've stomped a troll into the ground, investors will feel more confident than before.
2. Getting Help With Litigation
Because patent trolls will often litigate the same patent against several companies, it can really pay off to join forces with other companies that have either been targeted before you, or could potentially be next on the list. Joining forces with your competition might seem awkward at first, but when the common goal is crushing a patent troll, it's probably worth it.
3. Anti-Troll Alliances
You might be surprised to learn that there are already organizations out there catering to small tech, and startups, to provide support against patent trolls. These organizations' service range in cost (and value), from free (though you may be required to share some IP with other's in the organization) to almost as expensive as litigation.