In his recent article for Tech Crunch, Chris Hulls, CEO of the family networking and communication service Life360, tells about being attacked by a patent troll. “I thought I was finished standing up to bullies when I left junior high,” Hulls begins. “As a tech founder, I’ve met a new kind of bully.”
And like most bullies, he adds, most people see trolls as a major problem, yet they rarely fight back because paying them off is almost always cheaper than going to trial. Hulls eventually did fight back, however, after patent trolls attacked him last May, the same week Life360 raised $50 million in financing.
“It felt like I was getting mugged on payday,” he recalls. “Although we had settled with trolls before, I decided that this was the last straw. I realized that bullying begets more bullying, and not standing up to patent trolls just paints a target with dollar signs on your back.”
When Hulls looked up Advanced Ground Information Systems Inc. (AGIS), the company that was suing his business, he found it did indeed resemble a typical patent troll: they had no employees on LinkedIn, and their patents were broad enough to threaten many smaller tech companies at the same time. In this case, an infringer could be any company that showed a location marker on a map or could connect a group of people via location-sharing.
Hulls’ response to the suit was a passionate one, if a little bit profane.
“Dear Piece of Sh*t,” his letter begins. “We are currently in the process of retaining counsel and investigating this matter. As a result, we will not be able to meet your Friday deadline.” Hulls ends the letter on a resonant note: “I will pray tonight that karma is real, and that you are its worthy recipient. Chris.”
When AGIS asked Hulls to settle — standard procedure amongst trolls — he told them his offer was $0, then tasked them with licensing their entire patent portfolio to all other start-ups. If they didn’t do this, Hulls threatened to invalidate their intellectual property entirely.
Although AGIS thought he was just bluffing, a jury recently returned a verdict of non-infringement on all of the claims against Life360. “And with that,” says Hulls, “the troll is dead.”
His advice to other start-ups facing off against trolls is hard and clear: publicly call them out for what they really are (trolls hate this); share all information on your technology to (1) call attention to your case, and (2) point out the meritless claims being brought against you; and fight for what you believe is right — this is important for when things get hard and you might otherwise give up.
“While this win was not without cost, we have strong evidence that our hardline approach is working,” writes Hulls. Since the AGIS incident, Life360 has received two other demand letters, but after these firms saw the extreme defense the company mounted against AGIS, they went away.
“So, to my fellow founders,” Hulls concludes, “I beg of you, please don’t settle… We can make this problem go away in an instant by collectively standing up to bullies that plague us.”