Know Your Patent Troll

As an adamant adversary of patent trolls, Katie Johnson stresses that creating awareness is the first step to successfully fighting one

Left to right: Chloe Hecht, associate counsel, lead trademark counsel in protecting and enforcing proper use of the REALTOR® trademark; Karne Newburn, associate counsel of campaign finance and political law, advises local REALTOR® associations and their political action committees on campaign finance and lobbying laws; Ralph Holmen, vice president and associate general counsel, lead counsel on federal campaign finance and lobbying laws; Katie Johnson; Finley Maxson, senior counsel, oversees creation and distribution of risk management resources; Lesley Walker, senior counsel, lead on governing issues pertaining to the NAR board of directors; Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel, adviser on NAR technology initiatives.

At the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Senior Vice President and General Counsel Katie Johnson and her team have a new adversary: patent trolls—non-practicing entities who essentially use patents as legal weapons. Rather than create a new product or idea, a patent troll buys patents on the cheap from inventors or failing companies, and then uses those patents to demand licensing fees from others. These patents are often broadly defined, allowing patent trolls to claim that another company is guilty of patent infringement (usually in relation to technology or business practices), often without any proof of violation.

In the spring 2017 issue of Modern Counsel, Johnson details what she and everyone else at NAR are doing to push back against patent trolls, and why their fight is so important. According to her, one of the most crucial tactics is increasing awareness—teaching the organization’s members ways in which they can protect themselves and swiftly respond to demand letters, as well as threatened lawsuits. Here are three ways NAR creates awareness for its members:

  • “NAR’s Window to the Law video series is published monthly on topical legal issues affecting our members,” Johnson says. The series even includes an episode that specifically focuses on patent trolls. At an easily digestible five minutes, the video defines what a patent troll is, and details the potential next steps for someone being threatened with litigation. These procedures include demanding additional information, denying infringement, taking declaratory judgement action, challenging the patent’s validity, forming a joint defense group, and more. The video is available at http://www.realtor.org/videos/window-to-the-law-patent-troll-demand-letters.
  • Anyone being legally threatened by a patent troll should also know how to write an appropriate response letter. Luckily, NAR has one available at the video link. Users can simply fill in the blacked-out sections with their own information as it pertains to their patent-troll threat.
  • Johnson says that the legal support NAR offers its members is a critical weapon for combatting trolls. “Our team not only attends association and brokerage meetings across the country speaking about this issue,” she explains, “but we also encourage members to reach out to us if they are targeted. NAR’s legal action program has provided substantial financial assistance to help members who have been targeted by trolls.”