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A Dickensian Saga

2:00 PM -- Think that the NTP v RIM case was a simple instance of a valiant patent-holder battling for its intellectual-property rights against a big telecom provider? Then read the remarkable page-one feature (subscription required) in today's Wall Street Journal, which details the trail of chicanery, bitterness, and betrayal that has followed the mobile-email patents ever since the technology was first developed in the mid-1980s.

Just who did the developing, and who subsequently owned the patent rights, is at the heart of the dispute that continues to play out in the courts. The saga reads like Jarndyce v Jarndyce, the interminable chancery-court lawsuit that animates the plot machinery of Dickens' Bleak House.

The big winner in NTP v RIM was a patent lawyer named Donald Stout, who took home $177 million from the $612 million settlement. Stout controlled patents for technology originally developed by the late Tom Campana, when he worked for a pager company called Telefind.

"One person suing Mr. Stout alleges the lawyer, who was Telefind's patent attorney, committed fraud to keep the patents from the hands of Telefind's creditors," writes Journal reporter Christopher Rhoads. "Children of Telefind's late chief executive say their father helped invent the technology... [and] they were unfairly cut out of the winnings."

Given that both Campana and Telefind founder Andy Andros are now deceased, the legal dispute over the RIM settlement involves scattered heirs who were stunned to learn that a lawyer had taken home the lion's share of money from a famous lawsuit over an invention that they see their fathers as having created. It's enough to give weight to those who argue the whole U.S. patent system, like the chancery courts of Victorian England, is hopelessly outdated and corrupt.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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