Trolls: Moochers Preying on Makers

Hillary Foss is a marketing associate at FindTheBest, which recently received a demand letter.

When I first heard that the company I work at, FindTheBest, was being sued by a patent troll, I didn’t know what to think. FindTheBest is building the ultimate research hub that equips people with the best information and research tools to think like experts in just about any topic, from colleges to smartphones to dog breeds and hundreds more. The site starts by collecting the best information, whether that’s smartphone specs straight from the manufacturer, university statistics from the Department of Education, or third-party financials from the world’s leading business authorities. It then builds the tools people need to make sense of the information, from visual icons to smart filters to scatterplots. How were we going to be able to keep moving forward with a lawsuit from a patent troll on our desk?

I then talked to our CEO, Kevin O'Connor and found out that he has committed to spending $1 million of his personal funds to win the frivolous case in court and is going through the entire process as a vocal participant and being extremely public about the case, the parties involved, and his feelings on the issue. As a fresh college graduate, I was shocked to hear that it was going to take $1 million to fight this thing in court, but as time progressed, I realized that the monetary costs of defending yourself are just a small portion of the true costs involved in fighting a patent troll.

Don’t get me wrong: the cost of dealing with a patent troll can make or break a company, but FindTheBest is lucky enough to have a passionate (and successful) CEO who is able to take on the financial burden. It means our fight is different than most. The decision to fight back is not simply based on what is best for the company financially, but what is ethical and beneficial for entrepreneurs across the nation.

You might think that our CEO’s personal pledge would remove the burden of fighting the patent troll. I know I did. But it doesn’t end there. The real costs are the time, effort, stress, and opportunity cost of what you are not building, not to mention the biggest cost that society faces: the destruction of American innovation. When companies are forced to defend themselves against frivolous lawsuits, society is the one that loses. Instead of being able to focus on growing our business and developing innovative products and features that add value to society, we are forced to go on the defensive.

This happened at FindTheBest. Danny Seigle, our director of operations, has been the lead on dealing with our patent troll lawsuit and instead of being able to implement measures that expand our company he has been forced to spend countless hours communicating with lawyers, researching legal jargon, stressing about the lawsuit, and educating our employees on what is happening. Not every company will have to deal with these exact issues, but we have a very transparent culture at FindTheBest and everyone constantly wants to know who is winning the war. Let’s just say none of it is helping Danny’s already receding hairline.

The bigger issue is that patent trolls target the utopian image of American innovation. They go after the companies that are hiring people in a time where 7.4% of people in the United States are unemployed. FindTheBest has hired 50 people in the last 6 months, and we had plans to hire more, but those have been put on hold while we defend ourselves and function in an arena of uncertainty. We want to continue to add value to society, but this lawsuit does nothing but take away our ability to effectively do that.

Patent trolls are getting plump eating away at the American dream. The next Google or Apple may never materialize because patent trolls could eat them up before they are able to scale and defend themselves. Future generations will be forced to cope with stifled innovation and reduced economic output as a result of these patent trolls. It’s a broken system that assumes you are guilty until proven innocent, giving trolls the upper hand and allowing them to easily extort money from young startups.

Something has to change and everyone can help. You’ve taken the first step by educating yourself, now you have to write your senators, your congressmen and your congresswomen, to take a stance and win the war against patent trolls. 

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