‘Patent troll’ infringement claims not protected speech, says court

  • Patent holder must face claims that its allegations of infringement violate Washington state law
  • The state law bans abusive and bad faith infringement claims

(Reuters) – A Washington state law that penalizes companies for making bad-faith patent claims does not violate the U.S. Constitution, a Seattle federal court said Friday.

Landmark Technology A LLC cannot dismiss the state’s claims that the company’s practice of making broad infringement allegations against “every kind of business under the sun” violates the law, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington decided.

The Washington state government said in its lawsuit last year that Landmark is a “patent troll,” a company whose sole business is to collect patents and make infringement claims to force settlement payments. The state passed a law in 2015 banning what the lawsuit called “predatory patent troll activity.”

Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. A North Carolina federal court rejected a challenge from Landmark to that state’s similar anti-troll law last year.

Washington alleged that North Carolina-based Landmark broke the law by sending demand letters and filing lawsuits with “absurdly overbroad” infringement claims against Washington companies over a patent related to processing business transactions.

The state said Landmark demands thousands of dollars for licenses and targets small businesses that cannot afford long-lasting litigation in order to force quick settlement payments.

Landmark asked the court in March to dismiss the case, arguing that the law violates its constitutional free-speech rights and conflicts with federal patent law.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez said Friday that Landmark had cited “no authority” to support the idea that the First Amendment protects “bad faith assertions of patent infringement.”

Martinez also said the court needed more evidence to determine whether Landmark actually sent the letters in bad faith, and could not yet decide whether federal patent law preempts the state law.

The case is State of Washington v. Landmark Technology A LLC, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, No. 2:21-cv-00728.

For Landmark on the motion to dismiss: Derek Newman, Derek Linke and Jason Sykes of Newman Du Wors

For Washington: Aaron Fickes of the Washington Attorney General’s office

Read more:

N.C. federal court upholds state’s anti-‘patent troll’ law

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Blake Brittain

Thomson Reuters

Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com

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