Wednesday, March 21, 2012

RTA Sued by Patent-Wielding Canadian Troll

Posted By on Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 11:42 AM

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The Regional Transit Authority appears set to join a host of other municipal transit organizations in forking over a giant fare to a man in Canada who’s suing over RTA’s use of a notification system that maybe kinda not really infringes on his patents.

A lawsuit was filed February 28 in U.S. District Court on behalf of Martin Jones, a Canadian resident who claims that RTA’s alert system stomps on a handful of patents he filed back in 2001 for a bus-tracking system that would dial up riders with updated route info. It’s technology that has come to be used widely nationwide — and has come to be a profitable alternative to actual work for Jones, who reportedly is drawing a cool $50K to $75K from each of his marks.

The litigation comes as a shock to no one — not because RTA actually stole Jones’ intellectual property, which is up for debate, but because for two years, he’s been suing just about everyone who makes the mistake of communicating with a customer: more than 100 cases in all. He hasn’t sued your favorite Hungry Howie’s just yet, but he will as soon as they call you for delivery directions.

For his noble efforts to make the U.S. legal system envy North Korea’s, Jones has earned classification in the esteemed “patent troll” category, an industry reference to folks bent on abusing America’s dysfunctional patent system.

Jones’ scheme works like this: Lawyers fire off letters threatening legal action. Sometimes that move elicits enough fear to make the targets officially license the “technology.” If they laugh it off, the lawsuit comes next, at which point they’re left to weigh the merits of dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into fighting in court or settling for much less. To the untrained eye, it could be mistaken for an extortion fee. None of Jones’ lawsuits has ever reached trial stage. Home Depot, Ford, Best Buy, and a laundry list of others have ponied up to make him go away.

Last year, Jones filed similar claims against transit systems in Seattle, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Illinois. All of them settled, including Seattle at a price of $80K. With the Cleveland suit, a similar amount of your tax dollars appear headed to Jones’ wallet.

In a rare bout with his conscience, Jones opts to charge more for private companies — reportedly six figures ­— than he does for public ones. But, as his lawyer told the website arstechnica.com, “Just because an entity is funded with taxpayer dollars doesn’t give them the right to steal property. My client now owns 34 patents that are being infringed, and what else is he to do?”

For one thing, stop hiding behind an army of lawyers? Jones’ attorney in Cleveland, Philip Moy Jr., did not return calls from Scene. RTA spokesman Mary McCahon declined to comment, citing the pending pain in the ass.

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