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November 9, 2015 OTHER VOICES

Patent trolls: Extortion at the expense of innovation

Ben Berman

An unforeseen burden has plagued Connecticut businesses over the last decade. Between 2005 and 2015, a practice known as “patent trolling” has increased fivefold.

Patent trolls use vaguely written patents to threaten or file frivolous lawsuits against their victims, mostly small and medium-sized business owners. Then they take advantage of the extremely high cost of patent litigation to force settlements, even when the victim knows they've done nothing wrong.

For the last four years the company where I work, KAYAK, has been battling a lawsuit brought by a patent troll called Source Search Technologies. More than $3 million in legal costs and nearly a half decade in the courtroom were lost to this battle — resources that should have been invested in innovation, job creation and continuing to make online travel better. 

The experience we faced at KAYAK is far from unique. The latest numbers from Unified Patents show 2015 is on track to be the most litigious year yet, with trolls accounting for 68 percent of all patent suits and 90 percent of high-tech patent suits.

While we recently celebrated a victory in our case, Source Search also extracted $9.5 million from another company on the same patent we just invalidated. They know that few small businesses have the means and resources to pursue a case to its verdict. Regardless of whether you choose to settle or fight, these troll suits have a long-lasting and irreparable impact on businesses that may include a reduction in employees, slowed product development, delayed market entry and stymied customer trust.

Though we pride ourselves on being a global brand and the world's leading travel search engine, KAYAK was founded, and remains headquartered, in Connecticut. Instead of putting our resources toward adding more talent to our team and fueling our innovation pipeline we are diverting resources to attorney fees. Unfortunately, the current system does little to discourage trolls, and defendants don't have the tools to fight back. That's why I am encouraged to see growing support behind patent reform bills in both the U.S. House and Senate.

 Connecticut has an important role to play in this fight; our legislators in Congress are in key positions to help pass these bills and stop patent trolls from abusing our legal system.

Both the House's Innovation Act and the Senate's PATENT Act discourage the troll model that has destroyed far too many small businesses. These bills aim to bring clarity to patent litigation so a company can make informed judgments about whether the case is valid and give them the means to fight back if they believe a case is without merit.

It is essential that we pass this legislation to ensure companies like KAYAK are able to continue to contribute to a thriving economy here in Connecticut and beyond.

Ben Berman is the general counsel, corporate secretary and compliance officer of Stamford travel software developer KAYAK.

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