Polaris IP, aka Bright Response, is an arm of Erich Spangenberg's patent-holding empire. In one of its lawsuits, filed August 2007, it targeted Google, Yahoo, AOL, and IAC/InterActiveCorp, accusing them of infringing U.S. Patent No. 6,411,947. This patent, which is on natural language processing, became somewhat infamous after it was targeted by EFF's Patent Busting Project. EFF has the prosecution history of the patent on its web site. Spangenberg companies now own the entire interest in this patent.
In this litigation, Polaris and Google are presently engaged in an interesting discovery dispute. Polaris wants to learn all about Google's lobbying efforts in favor of patent reform, by making the search giant hand over any related documents on the subject, and depose its top patent lawyer about lobbying efforts.
Last month, Google lawyers responded, saying that the company's lobbying efforts are entirely irrelevant to the Polaris lawsuit. Even if the lobbying was relevant, Google claims it has a First Amendment right to lobby the government, and that should protect it from discovery on this issue.
"Google’s general corporate views about intellectual property also have no bearing on the specific patent at issue here. From a start-up formed out of Stanford University to the publicly traded company it is today, Google has always been a cutting edge technology company and its services are relied upon around the world. Google has every right to participate in the political development of this country’s intellectual property laws and to seek to have its voice heard on government policy matters. Whether or how it does so has no nexus to the specific accusation in this action." [Motion for Protective Order, Nov. 18]
Google is represented in this case by California lawyers from both Fenwick & West and Quinn Emanuel.
Like many other tech companies, Google has been vocal about the growth of patent litigation that it considers frivolous, and has asked Congress to change the rules—specifically asking to limit damages and stop the kind of venue-shopping that sends an endless stream of lawyers to East Texas. Michelle Lee, the company's Head of Patents and Patent Strategy, is the lawyer the Polaris team wants to grill about patent reform efforts. Lee co-authored a company post on patent reform last year. She has also spoken in public forums about the dramatic increase in patent lawsuits in recent years.
I should note that Polaris recently changed its name to Bright Response LLC, and has asked the court to re-name the litigation Bright Response v. Google. Sigh... Well, I don't know what to say, except it will always be Polaris in my heart. Spangenberg has his detractors but how many patent-holding companies have names as cool as his? Not many, let me tell you. I'll take Polaris over Endless Innovation LLC, or what have you, any day.
Polaris should file its response to Google's motion today. Presumably it will further explain why it believes Google's patent reform efforts are relevant to the case.
Polaris IP, LLC v. Google Inc. et al. 07-cv-371, E.D. Texas. Full docket on Justia.
Photo: Polaris A3 SLBM, Cape Canaveral, Florida. U.S. Air Force via Wikimedia.