When it comes to invention rights (patents) it is often difficult to determine who is a victim and who is merely promoting its agenda.
Life360, which markets the world’s largest family tracking app, says it is being unfairly targeted by what it calls a patent troll, Advanced Ground Information Systems Inc.(AGIS). SF-based Life360, which has raised $50 million from security giant ADT, says it wasting its capital on defending itself from AGIS, a company that makes tracking equipment and software for the military and first responders. But that is only part of the story.
In a video interview last week on Bloomberg News, Life360 CEO Chris Hulls, a former Goldman Sachs banker who spent time in the U.S. Air Force, said that “We believe it to be meritless suit from a troll. Life360 is helping people. Our product is one that saves lives, and its ridiculous that we have to defend ourselves in court.”
In a letter from Life360 to AGIS, Hulls wrote: “Dear Piece of S***, We are in the process of retaining counsel and investigating this matter… I will pray that karma is real and that you are its worthy recipient.”
In the patent world holders and their patents are not always as good or bad, or right or wrong, as they might appear. The “bad” guys in licensing are sometimes bottom-feeders looking for a quick payout given the high price of litigation, but, more often than not, they are legitimate holders of valid patents that are being used without authorization. Infringers sometimes invent four of five-letter words terms for those who expect to be paid for their inventions. Thus, it may be opportune for a a business edit the story to suit its needs. This appears to be the case with Life360.
The Court of Public Opinion currently is a more powerful ally to a patent infringer than it is to a small holder whose rights have been violated. Patent infringement is not a victimless crime. Unfortunately, it is not always clear who the real victim is.
Envision IP, a law firm which focuses on patent research, says that it is unlikely that AGIS is a “troll.”
“The four patents it asserted against Life360 list AGIS as the original assignee – so these patents were not purchased or acquired by the company,” said Maulin Shah, Managing Attorney. “The suit is filed in the Southern District of Florida, apparently in AGIS’s backyard, and does not appear to have pursued an
explicitly patent-friendly jurisdiction like Texas, Delaware of the Eastern District of Virginia.” (The suit lists Jupiter, FL the company’s address.)
Envision IP, which conducts invalidity studies, says that the complaint against Life360 is the only patent infringement lawsuit currently filed by AGIS, and it has not asserted its patents against any other companies. (Life360 is one of 25 defendants sued by an NPE called Remote Locater Systems LLC.) Also, AGIS appears to be an active operating company that has been filing annual reports since 2004. “It does not seem that the entity was formed as a shell used solely for patent licensing/enforcement purposes,” says patent attorney Shah.
Additionally, AGIS is represented by Kenyon & Kenyon, a highly respected law firm known for defending large operating companies, like Bosch and Siemens. Kenyon represents precious few if any plaintiffs, and it is highly unlikely that it would agree to represent AGIS if the case were truly meritless. But, then, you never know.
Life360 to the Defense
Life360 Inc. said last week that it will provide legal support for other small companies sued by Advanced Ground Information Systems Inc. So far, according to Envision IP, it does not appear that any have. Jupiter, Florida-based AGIS sued Life360 in federal court in West Palm Beach, Florida, in May 2014, accusing the California company of infringing four patents related to mobile-phone communication.
In a Feb. 3 statement, Life360 said that in addition to assisting others who are accused of infringing the disputed patents, it has filed a countersuit (click on View Complaint) in federal court in San Jose, California, accusing AGIS of marking all of its products with its patents regardless of whether the patent contains a claim covering the product. Life360 is represented by the Bergeson, LLP, a Silicon Valley law firm, in that matter. It is unclear who is representing it in defending against the patent suit.
According to PandoDaily six-year old Life360 has now raised a total of $76 million from more than a dozen investors that include Duchossois Capital Partners, BMW i Ventures, Facebook, Google, Expansion Venture Capital, DCM, and Bessemer Venture Partners.
Potential for an Injunction
Perhaps Life360’s greatest fear – and hence its high-profile defense – is that if AGIS can show that it is an operating company, and one that supports the military and first responders, it can potentially use an injunction to stop Life360 from selling its app, effectively shutting the company down. Much of this could be saber-rattling to enhance the parties’ respective negotiating position. But for Life360 its defense in the AGIS suit may indeed be a bet-the-company-matter.
According to the complaint (page 3), AGIS’s founder, Malcolm Beyer Jr, who is named as an inventor on the asserted patents, is a former Marine, and graduate of the US Naval Academy. He developed AGIS’ patented technology “shortly after September 11, 2001.” The commercial product based on the patents is called LifeRing. (The page explains the product features and provides a market comparison.)
Whatever the outcome, going public with a “damn-the-troll” defense, as Life360 has, is looking old and worn, even if it can still sometimes work. Allegations like those are outside the merits of the case, and from the preliminary research, will be difficult to prove.
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