Saturday’s Boston Globe reports that Northeastern University is the latest plaintiff to sue Google for patent infringement. The University joined a small tech company, Jarg, which is owned by an associate professor, Kenneth P. Baclawski.
The idea of targeting Google with a lawsuit apparently came from a Boston-area law firm—Jarg president Michael Belanger refused to say which firm. Belanger also told the Globe that it took him 2 ½ years to find a firm that would take the case on a contingency basis.
The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Texas, a popular venue with patent plaintiffs.
Northeastern University et al v. Google, Inc., 07-cv-00486-TJW.
Companies that make no products, but sue others for patent infringement, are often derided as “patent trolls” by their critics, who say this “license or lawsuit” approach amounts to a patent holdup, a tax on true innovation. But like beauty, trolldom is in the eye of the beholder, or the defendant, as the case may be. Often, the folks who call “troll” are connected to big companies, especially big tech companies, that are getting deluged by patent infringement lawsuits.
The phrase itself is controversial. While I have used it several times during my short time here on the IP beat, I’ve kept it in quotes (literally or figuratively), following the style of WSJ's Law Blog and letting others do the dirty work of directly applying this "popular pejorative phrase."
Universities occupy a problematic middle ground in this debate. They typically don’t have products or services in the areas their patents cover, but still insist on getting paid by those who use their patented technologies, and few question their right to do so. Many critics who would lambaste a patent-holding company for suing in pro-plaintiff East Texas don’t have any problem with the University of California or MIT bringing a lawsuit in San Francisco or Boston.