If you work in an office, you probably scan documents directly to email every day. It’s fast, it’s convenient, and it’s something that the equipment in your office is designed to do when used properly.
According to a network of patent trolls with names like AdzPro, though, that’s violating their patents. And they’d really like it if every single business using the technology they bought and that works properly to give them…wait for it…$1000 per employee, thank you very much.
Lest you think this is a joke or a masterful satire from the Onion, be assured it’s very real:
Smaller and smaller companies are being targeted. In a paper on “Startups and Patent Trolls,” Prof. Colleen Chien of Santa Clara University found that 55 percent of defendants to patent troll suits are small, with less than $10 million in annual revenue. Even in the tech sector, a full 40 percent of the time, respondents to patent threats are being sued over technology that they use (like scanners or Wi-Fi) rather than their own technology.
As you may have guessed, companies that take this to court tend to win. Suing somebody for using their equipment properly tends to be a no-go among judges. And they tend not to actually sue, for precisely this reason.
The entire idea is to scare small businesses into giving them money. Fighting these suits in court, even if you win, can be prohibitively expensive for a small business, and it’s often cheaper to pay the blackmail fee than it is to fight it off.
If that weren’t sketchy enough, after it became clear having your name actually involved in the case might invite trouble, suddenly a complicated network of shell companies collecting on these patents sprung up.
Eventually this has to stop. Somebody will involve the makers of these scanners, who have death squadrons of lawyers, and that’s pretty much the ball game. But until then, if you own a small business, keep an eye out.