In January, a libel suit filed by East Texas lawyer T. John “Johnny” Ward, Jr. against Cisco over the contents of an October 2007 Troll Tracker post was settled under confidential terms. Frenkel—dismissed as a defendant in the case last August at Ward's request—has declined to comment on either Ward's suit or a second, related defamation claim filed against him and Cisco by East Texas lawyer Eric Albritton. (That suit settled in September after a week-long trial; see earlier coverage on The Prior Art here, here, and here.)
While it’s clear now that at least a few high-level Cisco employees knew the Troll Tracker’s identity, company lawyers say no one there besides Frenkel contributed to the blog. Still, because Cisco is helping to lead the lobbying charge in favor of reforming the nation's patent laws—with a particular focus on lowering litigation payouts to non-practicing entities (a.k.a. NPEs, or "patent trolls")—those who advocate for small patent holders sensed a Frenkel-Cisco conspiracy.
Putting aside the conspiracy theories aside and drama—two lawyers with a high profile in the Eastern District of Texas's lucrative patent litigation scene suing Cisco and one of its in-house lawyers for libel and defamation—it seems like an opportune time to take a broad look at the big issue at the heart of the Troll Tracker tale: that the huge piles of money at stake in patent litigation has created an independent class of IP professionals? As it happens, a PricewaterhouseCoopers study released in January on just that topic has some answers.
"Patent trolling" has its rewards.
Tech-sector executives and lawyers say privately—and an informed review of court dockets confirms—that so-called trolls aren't just surviving, they're thriving. The essential NPE tactic—suing a broad swath of companies for patent infringement, then settling with each defendant for less than the cost of fighting such a suit—is now an established business model. It's so solid, in fact, that patent-holders are starting to delve into previously untouched economic sectors, suing small retailers and even photographers.