If you’re an app developer uploading content to the Google Play Store – or you plan to be at some point – then the following may serve as a cautionary tale. Austin Meyer, an app developer from South Carolina, has posted a video on YouTube explaining how he is being sued by a patent troll in East Texas simply for uploading his app to Google Play. But not because his app infringes on some patent: because the patent troll apparently owns the idea of the Google Play Store itself.
It’s a pretty incredible story but one that has been dragging on for years. Meyer, who develops a flight simulator app, has been battling what he claims is a patent troll called Uniloc for four years. Uniloc claims he violated one of 113 assertions in a very vaguely worded patent they hold on the idea of the Android app market. Meyer has successfully challenged the initial assertion, only to have Uniloc change their claim to accuse him of violating a different assertion contained in the patent.
According to Meyer, this is exactly how patent trolls work: endlessly modifying their claim so that no matter how many assertions the defendant can challenge pre-trial, there is always another one to substitute until the case goes to trial. Sooner or later the defendant ends up in court, but without the deep legal pockets required to defend themselves at trial – a figure Meyer puts at between $1.5-$3 million – the defendant is forced to settle and the patent troll wins.
Meyer calims the cost of going to trial would cost between $1.5-$3 million.
This is why patent trolls go after the little guy. Tackling Google on ownership of the idea behind the Google Play Store would not end well for a patent troll, so they attack app developers instead. If the likes of Google and Apple can successfully fend off the FBI and United States Government, they can certainly handle a notorious patent troll with a flimsy claim based on a vaguely-worded patent. But app developers typically can’t finance a trial that could take years to conclude.
Meyer makes some pretty inflammatory claims in his video too, pointing out that the now-retired judge originally presiding over his case happens to be the father of a lawyer in the same state that regularly brings patent troll cases to court. Meyer also notes the large number of patent cases being brought to trial in East Texas and the inordinately high number of times the judge has sided with the patent company in those cases. Make of this what you will.
The notoriously troll-friendly Texas Eastern District has become a hot spot for patent claims.
This scenario has played out against many other app developers for many years with the notoriously troll-friendly Texas Eastern District becoming a hot spot for patent claims. While there is no real reason for Apple or Google to step in and defend the developers being sued by these trolls, there is a larger issue at stake. If the situation continues unabated, app developers may end up deciding it’s simply not worth the risk of uploading their apps for fear of drawn-out patent issues. And without new apps, everyone loses.
What are your thoughts on this case? Should Google step in to defend app developers?