But the true bottom feeders are the "patent trolls," a specific species of law firm that has picked up patents from companies that usually never brought a product to market. They watch for other companies to come out with products that use a piece of technology that may or may not be covered under the patents they hold, and then either sue the company for patent infringement or force them to pay license fees. This document from legal firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP details the strategy used by patent trolls and how targets can fight back.
Apple's latest attack, as reported in Macworld, is coming from St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants Inc. (SCIPC), a firm made up of two lawyers who purchased patents for US$100,000 from a group of investors who failed to start up a digital camera company. The company says that its patents cover technology that allows digital cameras to save pictures in multiple formats. So far, SCIPC raked in over US$179 million from various other consumer electronics firms (Sony and Canon, to name just two), and now its leveled the sights at Apple.
SCIPC filed its lawsuit October 26th in Delaware, suing Apple for violating Patent 5,138,459, entitled "Electronic Still Video Camera with Direct Personal Computer (PC) Compatible Digital Formal Output." The suit is specifically targeting the iPhone and other devices made by Apple that include digital cameras in them. Judging from the legal precedent that has been set by previous SCIPC suits, Apple could easily be about to shell out some big bucks to a happy troll.