In another sign that corporate America has had enough of patent trolls, this week monster retailers Macy's and OfficeMax accused SpeedTrack Inc in court of creating a "fable" and asked a judge to kill off its patent for good.
At a hearing in Oakland, California lawyers who are defending a range of online retailers that have been sued by SpeedTrack for allegedly infringing its online data patent, told the judge that the claims against their clients were nothing but "stories" that has no basis in fact.
They argued that a claim for discovery should be turned down because the company had created "basically a fable of what might have happened."
Incredibly, the hearing is just the latest in a case that was first brought back in 2009, claiming that online retailers – including Amazon and Best Buy - were infringing a patent for product search on their own websites. The suit was put on hold while another one brought by SpeedTrack – this time against Walmart - was heard.
SpeedTrack lost the Walmart case in 2016 but in the course of it, the company won a claim that the patent was valid, opening the doors on its other lawsuit against Macy's, Amazon et al. Its revised its lawsuit in light of the Walmart case and was back in business.
The retailers' lawyer is not impressed (Amazon and Best Buy had their own lawyers who sat at the back and let Macy's lawyer do the arguing). He pointed out that the allegations in SpeedTrack's lawsuit make it sound as though the company had interviewed an employee of OfficeMax and discovered that the company grabbed its technology when in fact no such an interview ever happened and SpeedTrack was simply making up a fictional conversation about what an employee might have done.
The goal, the lawyer alleged, was to force the retailers to hand over internal documents that the company would then scour, try to find something that looked like infringement, and then amend their lawsuit after the fact.
SpeedTrack's lawyer was naturally offended at such wild accusations. He argued that theoretical claims are allowed in the early stage of a lawsuit and that it was the retailers' fault for taking too long to respond to requests for information.
It's fair to say the judge is not exactly excited about SpeedTrack but nevertheless indicated she would likely agree to let the company amend its lawsuit. She did put discovery on pause however.
The patent in question - no. 5544360 - is summarized as: "Method for accessing computer files and data, using linked categories assigned to each data file record on entry of the data file record."
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Unlike most patent troll cases, SpeedTrack's co-founder did in fact develop and patent the method i.e. the company didn't buy it from the inventor with an eye to suing others for infringement.
And – according to SpeedTrack – some organizations have paid to use its technology, including police departments that use its technology to sort through their criminal records.
SpeedTrack's system provides related and relevant search responses to specific keywords if those keywords turn up no results. It's something that pretty much every decent online retailer has on their website, meaning that if SpeedTrack does succeed in persuading a court that their patent has been infringed by Amazon, Macy's, Best Buy and almost two dozen other huge online retailers, then it would enjoy a massive payday.
But by creating fictional conversations about what might have happened and, in the words of the judge, "front-loading a whole lot of other discovery" in its case, SpeedTrack looks a lot like the that slowly dying species known as patentus trollus. ®