eDekka LLC had a patent that “teaches someone… a new way of doing things.”
The most litigious “patent troll” of 2014 has been effectively shut down, and will have to pay attorneys’ fees to several defendants.
US District Judge Rodney Gilstrap, who hears more patent cases that any other federal judge, issued an order (PDF) on Thursday saying that the behavior of eDekka LLC qualified as “exceptional,” and that the company should pay the legal fees of various companies it sued.
Gilstrap’s courtroom is, arguably, the most surprising spot in the nation from which a patent troll slap-down might originate. The judge has been criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for making life unnecessarily difficult for patent defendants. He’s also invalidated relatively few patents under Supreme Court precedent set in last year’s Alice Corp. case, even as other federal judges have been tossing out software patents at a steady clip.
And until this order was issued, Gilstrap had never before ordered any patent plaintiff to pay up for filing massive numbers of lawsuits, even after it became the easier to win such awards after the Octane Fitness case.
“The ’674 Patent claims were clearly directed toward unpatentable subject matter, and no reasonable litigant could have reasonably expected success on the merits when defending against the numerous § 101 motions filed in this case,” wrote Gilstrap. “However, rather than acknowledging the inherent weaknesses of the ’674 Patent, eDekka proffered completely untenable arguments to the Court.”
eDekka vaguely assured the judge that its patent claims would “improve the functioning of technology” by reducing the “time to retrieve information.” Pressed for details by the judge during a September hearing, this conversation ensued, memorialized in Gilstrap’s order:
Counsel for eDekka: [It] teaches a person who would program a computer how to program it in a way that uses a better database, and that database improves the functioning of the computer.
The Court: So is the purpose of this patent a teaching tool for computer users?
Counsel for eDekka: Yes, we would agree that it is.
The Court: It’s not simply to store and retrieve information, but it’s to be an
educational process for people that would use it?
Counsel for eDekka: Well, it—it teaches someone skilled in computer programming a new method, a new way of doing things to make a computer store, organize, and retrieve data.
The Court: Well, what I’m asking . . . is the teaching function that you’re alluding to something that you believe is inventive and unconventional?
Counsel for eDekka: Yes, Your Honor, we do.
Gilstrap concluded that there was “absolutely no basis in the claim language to support eDekka’s newfound position that the ’674 Patent was meant to serve as a teaching tool for computer users.” He continues:
The “strikingly similar lawsuits” demonstrate “an aggressive strategy that avoids testing its case on the merits and instead aims for early settlements falling at or below the cost of defense,” wrote Gilstrap. “A finding of exceptionality is something that this Court arrives at reluctantly, lest we unintentionally narrow the public’s access to the courts by chilling future decisions to seek redress for a case in which success is not guaranteed.”
The motion for fees was a consolidated one filed on behalf of several defendants, including shoe company Aldo, Action Envelope & Printing (envelopes.com), Asics, and Cymax Stores USA. The defendants now have two weeks to submit their motions outlining how much they believe they should be paid.