Cisco Snared in Patent Blog Suits
Two Texas attorneys are suing blogger Richard Frenkel over some postings made in October. And they've named Cisco as a defendant as well.
Eric Albritton filed his suit on March 3 in the District Court of Gregg County, Texas, followed by John Ward Jr., who filed March 13. Both are seeking unspecified damages
Patent Troll Tracker is a blog that investigates patent lawsuits -- specifically, the ones Frenkel thinks are frivolous.
The term "patent troll" gets tossed around rather loosely, but usually, it refers to someone who holds a patent and just waits around for a chance to sue someone. Anti-troll crusaders get particularly irked in cases where the patent holder makes no effort to build the product patented.
The practice is legal and can pay off big. In 2006, BlackBerry paid $612.5 million to NTP Software Inc. , which held patents crucial to the BlackBerry device and service. NTP has gone on to sue Palm Inc. , AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). (See RIM, NTP Come to Terms, NTP Takes Another Shot, and NTP Rides Again.)
The suits against Frenkel don't strike at any big patent questions. Instead, they're about some alleged legal maneuvering which, if it happened, could get Albritton and Ward in hot water.
Albritton and Ward were among the attorneys representing a company called ESN, which filed a patent suit against Cisco and Linksys on Oct. 15, 2007. But the patent in question, No. 7,283,519, didn't get issued until Oct. 16.
Frenkel pointed this out in a blog entry of Oct. 17, according to a copy attached to Albritton's complaint. Frenkel went on to say ESN was trying to change the date on its complaint to Oct. 16.
And in a posting the following day, he said the date did indeed get changed on the docket for the Eastern District Court of Texas. Only the court clerk could make that change, Frenkel wrote, and he cites an email that "suggested" the attorneys convinced the clerk by phone to do it.
"You can't change history, and it's outrageous that the Eastern District of Texas is apparently, wittingly or unwittingly, conspiring with a non-practicing entity to try to manufacture subject matter jurisdiction," Frenkel wrote. "This is yet another example of the abusive nature of litigating patent cases in the Banana Republic of East Texas."
So, how does Cisco get roped into this, if Frenkel was acting on his own? The key appears to be the way in which Fenkel outed himself.
Until last month, the author of Patent Troll Tracker was a mystery. His writings were infuriating some patent attorneys, though. Raymond Niro, a partner in Chicago-based Niro Scavone Haller & Niro, offered a reward for anyone who could unmask the blogger; the amount started at $5,000 and eventually climbed to $15,000.
Last month, for reasons that still aren't clear, Frenkel came clean about his name and occupation. He claimed Cisco's higher-ups had no knowledge of what he was doing -- but that his manager did.
That last part might be what's allowing some legalese to get pointed Cisco's way.
"Defendant Frenkel has publicly admitted that he engaged in this activity with the full knowledge and consent of his employer," Ward's complaint reads -- meaning "Cisco is vicariously and directly liable for the intentional torts of Defendant Frenkel."
From there, Ward goes on to claim Cisco (and Frenkel) were intentionally attacking him in hopes of damaging his business.
Albritton's complaint follows similar lines. Further, Albritton notes that Frenkel was a Cisco manager and claims Frenkel was involved with the ESN case.
Both complainants also accuse Frenkel of gaming search engines to make his blog appear when their names are used as search keys. Light Reading's quick Google checks of "Albritton" and "Eric Albritton" didn't turn up Patent Troll Tracker on the first page, but that might be because Patent Troll Tracker has shut itself in. It's an invitation-only blog now.
Cisco declined to comment but issued a statement that reads, in part: "We would like to underscore that the comments made in the employee's personal blog represented his own opinions and several of his comments are not consistent with Cisco's views." (The ESN v. Cisco case was dismissed on Nov. 19, by the way.)
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading