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Troll Tracker [Why People Hate Lawyers]

Opening Statements, from the December 2007 IP Law & Business (a Law.com versino of the article is online here), relays some interesting stories about the battle between patent attorney Ray Niro and the anonymous blogger "Troll Tracker". It's almost amusing, while at the same time a sad commentary on our perverted legal and property rights system. [Update: Ray Niro Offers $5,000 Bounty For Information On My Identity; As The Troll Turns; Follow-Up on Bounty Post.] [Update: Raymond Niro Responds to Patent Troll Tracker: this is a creepy response. Niro writes:
1. I do not want to find out the name of the Troll Tracker in order to sue for patent infringement; rather, I want to know his name to expose him, so that he can't hide behind anonymity and may ultimately be held accountable for what he says. 3. Anyone that operates a website runs the risk of infringing Global's patent if (as we believe) that patent covers the manner in which JPEG images are displayed on a website. Troll Tracker is no exception. 4. As for silencing critics, I doubt that is possible. But anyone should be held responsible for what they say and have the courage to express their views by putting their names on whatever it is they publish. In addition, Niro mentioned that he has raised the reward to $10,000 for information leading to the identity of the Troll Tracker. "It seems to me if you really have anything truthful to say, you are not afraid of identifying yourself,” Niro stated.
First, a little background. The patent firm Niro, Scavone is a well-known patent plaintiffs firm (see Quick Draw--requires registration). As these guys are sometimes accused of being "patent trolls," they naturally defend "trolling" (while disliking the label). One of Niro, Scavone's attorneys, Joseph Hosteny, has written in defense of so-called "patent trolls," as I note in Patent Trolls and Empirical Thinking. I also note that most criticisms of patent trolls are confused ... but this doesn't mean there's nothing wrong with a system that permits trolling to arise. Anyway, as the article reports, Niro won a $12.1 million jury verdict for his client Philip Jackson against an electronics company, for patent infringement. The court later reduced the award to $2.65 million. Jackson then sued Niro for malpractice. Niro's counterclaim? That the patent he'd helped Jackson sue others for was invalid -- that is, should not have been granted! Wow, what chutzpah. Meanwhile, Niro is in a spat with Troll Tracker, a blog by anonymous blogger (apparently an experienced patent attorney) which covers various patent troll patent lawsuit filings. Niro doesn't liked being called a Troll, as Troll Tracker often does. So Niro threatens to sue Troll Tracker, for infringing U.S. Pat. No. 5,253,341. What was Troll Tracker's terrible action of "infringement"? Including a JPEG image on his website. Yep. That's what Niro claims to "own" by virtue of this patent--the right to put JPEG pictures on websites. Yikes! I guess Drudge Report and Craigs List are safe, though I'm not sure about anyone else. Troll Tracker has also brought the spotlight onto another of Niro's IP suits: in this case, Niro, on behalf of a client, sued Google for patent infringement, and Troll Tracker publicized the fact that the patent here was owned by Scott Harris, a partner at law firm Fish & Richardson--and Google was a F&R client! Ha! Harris was apparently asked to resign after this came to light. (Harris's latest reply.) So you can see why Niro no likey Troll Tracker, and has threatened to sue him (?) for, um, putting JPEGs on his website. But too bad, so sad for Niro--Troll Tracker is anonymous. So he doesn't know who to sue. Therefore, the crafty Niro has offered to pay a $5000 bounty for anyone who can tell him who Troll Tracker is. I'll give him a little help--it ain't me! Anyway, here we have yet another example of how IP violates other rights, like the right to free speech. Niro tried to do this before--he used the same patent against a porn site, and when the outspoken Greg Aharonian called the patent "crap," Niro sued him too. What was it Ayn Rand said? Ah, yes: "patents are the heart and core of property rights." Not your proudest moment, Miss Rand.

Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.