I'm back from Texas, where I was able to watch a patent trial (almost) in its entirety, which was a very educational experience. That case, Mass Engineered Design v. Ergotron, will be part of an upcoming feature story in the January print edition, and I'll share some of my thoughts and observations about what I saw and witnessed in Marshall here on The Prior Art.
Now it's time to return to a subject I visited in the October issue, when I focused on IP lawyers who have acquired their own patents, and then used them to sue companies, and sometimes entire industries, for patent infringement. The topic is far from exhausted.
Today I'll focus on two San Jose patent lawyers who have sued at least 20 companies in the past several months: Dominic Kotab and Kevin Zilka, the principals of Zilka-Kotab P.C., and at least three patent-holding companies—Aloft Media, LLC; Stragent, LLC; and Azure Networks, LLC.
All three companies are Texas LLC's, "based" in Longview, Texas, a block away from their lawyers' office. Kevin J. Zilka is the name listed on corporate records, but since Dominic Kotab is a named co-inventor, it's likely that he has an ownership stake in at least Aloft Media.
Last week, Zilka & Kotab filed suit against their most recent target, Google, in Tyler, Texas, saying that Google's Chrome browser infringed one of their patents. In the past nine months, Kotab and Zilka have filed nine lawsuits against 20 companies, using eight different patents. Many of those companies were sued two or three times. They have sued Microsoft five times, on five different patents. Total number of defendants named: 41.
All their lawsuits are filed in the Eastern District of Texas, either in Tyler, where they draw Judge Leonard Davis, or Marshall, where they draw Judge David Folsom. They are represented by Williams, Morgan & Amerson, an IP boutique in Houston, as well as John Ward Jr. and Eric Albritton, who is suffering mental anguish because of some blog posts.
I called and emailed both Zilka and Kotab last week, hoping to learn about their inventions and patents, but got no response. This afternoon Dominic Kotab answered his phone and responded to my inquiries by saying "no comment" a couple times before hanging up on me.
The Zilka-Kotab patent attack began last year, when they sued Microsoft and Adobe Systems over patents 7,117,443 and 7,194,691, two ideas they had about Internet browsers. Zilka is a member of an electronic engineering group (IEEE), and Kotab's undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering. Both have been working in the law since the 1990's, and there's nothing indicating they have ever worked with Internet browsers or cell phones, the technology area they say they invented in. Both defendants in that 2007 lawsuit have settled, but before that happened, Adobe tried to get the case transferred to Northern California, pointing out that plaintiffs Zilka and Kotab are situated in downtown San Jose, a mere four blocks from the headquarters of the company they were suing, Adobe. Even considering the new transfer guidelines established in the In re Volkswagen case, a magistrate judge refused to transfer the case, and Adobe was force to litigate in Tyler, Texas. That lawsuit settled last month.
What Kevin Zilka and Dominic Kotab have been up to this year? Let's take a look.
- Feb. 22: Aloft Media LLC sues Microsoft twice on the same day—once over 6,901,393, a patent which Kevin Zilka prosecuted for a client but bought in 2007; and once over their own 7,305,625 patent, a data networking idea they say is infringed by Microsoft Windows Live and MSN explorer. Case Nos. 08-050 and 08-051, E.D. Texas (Tyler).
- March 6: Aloft Media LLC sues Nokia, Motorola, Palm, Research in Motion (BlackBerry), and Sony Ericsson, saying the cell phones they make infringe patent 7,330,715, which describes using a cell phone to send data. Only Zilka is a named inventor on that patent. 08-099, E.D. Texas (Marshall).
- April 8: Aloft Media sues nine companies—Brookstone, Honeywell, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Lacrosse, Technology, Chaney Instrument Co., Rainwise, Columbia Weather Systems, Peet Bros. Company, and Tandd U.S.—for allegedly infringing 6,300,871, a patent they bought related to weather monitoring systems.
- June 25: Aloft Media sues Yahoo, AT&T, and AOL over the 7,117,443 patent, the one asserted last year against Adobe & Microsoft. 08-255, E.D. Texas (Tyler).
- July 29: Aloft Media sues Palm, Nokia, Research in Motion, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, and AT&T. Aloft Media LLC v. Palm Inc., et al, over 7,305,625 (see Feb. 22). 08-292, E.D. Texas (Marshall).
- July 29: Stragent, LLC sues the same six cell phone company that Aloft sued (above), as well as Google & Microsoft. Strangent LLC v. Nokia, et al. 08-293, E.D. Texas (Marshall). This one is with a purchased patent, 6,665,722.
- Sept. 9: Stragent sues Microsoft and Ford Motor Co., saying Microsoft's Sync voice-activated media player, which is installed in Ford cars, infringes 7,424,431. This patent was invented by Voice Demand Inc., and Kevin Zilka has prosecuted the patent application since it was filed in 2005. He bought it from Voice Demand (which doesn't appear to be active) in 2007, and it issued in 2008, the same day this suit was filed. 08-341, E.D. Texas (Marshall).
- Oct. 10: Azure Network LLC sues Nokia Corp. over 7,302,704 and 6,981,158, both purchased patents. 08-398, E.D. Texas (Tyler).
- Nov. 19: Aloft Media sues Google, saying its Chrome browser infringes the 7,194,691 patent, a product of the Zilka-Kotab "browser brainstorm," first asserted 2007 (above). 08-440, E.D. Texas (Tyler). [Aloft Media LLC v. Google Inc. docket on Justia]
So, enjoy the turkey this year! And give thanks you don't owe royalties to the Zilka-Kotab patent regime. Unless, you know, you do.
Photo by J. Mullin. Reliable Music & Cigarette Co., Longview, Texas.