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Optical/IP

Cisco Snared in Patent Blog Suits

Now that the world knows a Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) employee is behind the Patent Troll Tracker blog, it's no surprise to see the company's name show up in defamation lawsuits.

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

everythingip 12/5/2012 | 3:45:14 PM
re: Cisco Snared in Patent Blog Suits Interesting headline, it really pertains alot to the article........:-)
trzwuip 12/5/2012 | 3:45:14 PM
re: Cisco Snared in Patent Blog Suits This abuse of the patent system is shameful for the attorneys and so called companies involved. It is a drag on our industry and a waste of tax dollars by tying up our court system. I seriously hope that his manager having knowledge of this does not make a case for these attorneys!

There is a big difference between a product and research company such as an AlcLu, Nortel, Qcom, Eric., etc. and a patent troll such as NTP who does jack shit nothing to help our industry. They and their attorneys can roll up their paper into a cone and sit on them!
trzwuip 12/5/2012 | 3:45:13 PM
re: Cisco Snared in Patent Blog Suits To you and anyone else who does not like the USA. If you live here, move OUT, we don't want you or need you. If you do not live here, then please do not ever visit.

As for the rest of your comments, it is true that the USA has heavily participated in the benefits of patents, but Europeans, Japanese, Koreans and other industrialized nations with educated workforces have greatly benefited as well!

Just because I live here, it does not mean that I agree with the SPECIFIC issue related to the ability for a company to exist exclusively to sue others without ever building a product or contributing to technological advances.

Please keep with the topic and keep your anti-USA rhetoric for somewhere else. You should refocus your energy on productive functions.
donniall 12/5/2012 | 3:45:13 PM
re: Cisco Snared in Patent Blog Suits Hey buddy ......... welcome to the the free-trade, globalised economy mantra...What you allude to as 'jack shit' is very much a part of the dogma that america has supported, and exported for decades .... Another facet of the same argument is the fact that companies declared bankrupt in US can return to business with zero liabilities, effectively driving down industry profitability to a perilous level that benefits no-one (-in the long run) ....What strikes me as hilarious is the fact that once policy offshoots 'pinch' the arm of you guys (-witness the total farcical response in US of Boeing having recently awarded business to Airbus), you react in such a depressingly predictable, one dimensional, pedestriam manner. Bear a thought for other far-flung mugs, which have had their arses ripped off by the exact same dogma .... with absolutely no recourse!!
To quote one of your business writers (-and very good he is too, I may add!) the world may very well be flat .... but to many outside the US it appears the US population is depressingly dim, and becoming dimmer (.... at least the Farelly Bros are in line to make a quick buck!)
motorway 12/5/2012 | 3:45:12 PM
re: Cisco Snared in Patent Blog Suits Certainly this discussion took a nasty turn! Go at it, but please leave the patronising patriotism for the fall campaign.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:45:09 PM
re: Cisco Snared in Patent Blog Suits Cisco's changed their blog policy as a direct result of all this:

http://www.lightreading.com/bl...
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