The patent troll problem gets worse by the day, and it's turning into a think-global-sue-local business. Today, an Indian company named Kootol distributed a press release announcing that it sent "a notice" to a long list of companies large and small, claiming that they sell products and operate services on which a patent application pending in different jurisdictions around the globe reads. Kootol describes the scope of that patent application as basically covering the kinds of feeds provided by the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn:
"The invention allows the user to publish and send messages using one way or two way messaging and by subscribing to posts of other users of a network. By indexing each message of each user the system provides real time search capabilities to users of the network in turn creating a unique form of communication."
Note that no one can be sued for infringing a patent application before it is granted. An application may never be granted, or it may be granted only after some modification of its scope. However, Kootol's patent application will result in a U.S. patent. On March 30, 2011 the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued a Notice of Allowance, which I have published on Scribd. It states that "prosecution on the merits is closed", so Kootol will very soon hold a U.S. patent in its hands, with a strong presumption of validity under the law.
With today's notices, Kootol hopes to strike license deals early on, and attempts to pave the way for suing companies for willful infringement after the patent has been issued.
Kootol primarily points to its patent application pending in the United States: U.S. Patent Application No. 20100030734 on a "universal knowledge management and desktop search system". Kootol refers to that patent by its original application number 11/995343 and its original title, "method and system for communication, advertising, searching, sharing and dynamically providing a journal Feed", and claims that it has been assigned an exclusive license to that patent application by its "inventor", Yogesh Rathod. Since the inventor and original applicant is also a "director" of Kootol, this is most likely a patent licensing front set up by him. But this is not just about the U.S. market:
According to the description of that patent on Kootol's corporate website, applications "have also been filed in India, Canada and Europe". Indeed, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) lists that patent application, and there's a long list of designed member states for which the applicant claimed priority. You can find the pending European patent application here.
By the way, the same "inventor" appears to have filed other patent applications as well, also in connection with social networks. But Kootol currently talks only about that particular application.
Recipients of Kootol's notice: many companies of all sizes, including Lodsys defendant Iconfactory (Twitterriffic) and StatusNet (the operator of Identica)
This is the list of recipients of the notice as published today by Kootol:
"Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Apple, Bharti Airtel Ltd., Webaroo Technology (India) Pvt. Ltd., Amazon, AOL, Nokia, Bebo Inc., ExactTarget Inc., Ford Motor, Foursquare Inc., IBM, Linkedin, MySpace, NING Inc., Research In Motion Inc., Quora Inc., Salesforce.com Inc., Seesmic Inc., Siemens Enterprise Communications Inc., Sina.com Technology Co. Ltd., StatusNet Inc., PopBox Inc., Twitpic Inc., Peek Inc., The Iconfactory Inc., Ubermedia Inc., Yammer Inc., Facebook and Twitter."
That list is not even complete. Kootol's press release indicates that more companies are going to receive letters from them.
There are two companies on the list that I'm particularly worried about:
Iconfactory, known for Twitterriffic and other mobile apps, already has to defend itself against Lodsys. One of its founders, Craig Hockenberry, published a blog post the day before yesterday, entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Independent Developer", in light of that situation. At the time he didn't know they were going to become the target of yet another non-practicing entity so soon.
Tactical situation and defense strategies
At first sight, Kootol is not a particularly deep-pocketed troll. Their press release is full of linguistic errors. If they had involved U.S. patent attorneys in the drafting of that text, those would also have corrected those errors. So in all likelihood Kootol lacks funding.
By contacting potential future infringers while the patent application is still being examined, Kootol gives all of those organizations an opportunity to contact patent offices that (unlike the US Patent and Trademark Office) could still be persuaded to reject the application, such as the European Patent Office (which contrary to popular misbelief does grant European software patents on a daily basis).
Kootol probably hopes for some quick settlements and will then use any initial income to fund its further enforcement activity, and at some stage possibly some lawsuits.
Maybe Kootol also hopes to get the attention of potential acquirers of its rights. Patent pool companies such as Intellectual Ventures and RPX routinely buy patent applications either to be able to later enforce the patents they might result in or to clear the market. However, Kootol cold have contacted those directly as opposed to issuing a press release.
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