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Apple is expected to shut down its two retail stores in the Eastern District of Texas tomorrow, blocking the ability for patent lawsuits to be fought in the district’s extremely plaintiff-friendly courts that have been the “home turf” of patent trolls for decades. However, this hasn’t stopped one litigation company from trying to get one last huge swipe in at Apple before the door closes tomorrow.
In a lawsuit filed yesterday (via 9to5Mac), a company named Seven Networks is accusing Apple of violating a massive list of its patents, covering technologies found in just about every Apple product currently being sold, including the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, along with Apple’s operating systems and services: iCloud, iOS, macOS.
The lawsuit goes so far as to make direct reference to the two Apple stores as justification for the court’s jurisdiction, since they were still open at the time of the filing, stating that the suit is being filed in the Eastern District of Texas because “Apple has offered and sold and continues to offer and sell these infringing products and services in this district, including at Apple stores located within this district.”
While Seven Networks is of course passing itself off as a technology innovator, Patently Apple calls them out as a blatant patent troll, noting that they “seem to be inactive other than suing other companies and running a blog on their site.” In fact, Seven Networks hasn’t even been heard from since 2014 — even the company’s own media page shows no activity since that time. Media coverage prior to that, however, suggested that the company was at least involved in some software development and possibly some wireless network partnerships, such as developing the Hotmail and Outlook clients for Android in partnership with Microsoft, and working with Intel on solutions to reduce the bandwidth used by mobile devices.
However, with almost five years of dead silence, it’s unclear what’s happened to the company, or even if it’s still under the same leadership, although the original CEO, Ross Bott, continues to be identified as the company’s President & CEO both on Seven Networks’ leadership page and on his LinkedIn profile.
However, with this latest lawsuit Seven Networks has all of the earmarks of having turned into a patent troll. In fact, as of May 2015, the company was headquartered in San Carlos, California, and listed offices in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Finland, Ireland, and the U.K., and a larger executive team. However, sometime between May 2015 and January 2016, the company’s headquarters moved to the infamous town of Marshall, Texas — the town known as “the patent litigation capital of America” and “the worst thing that ever happened to intellectual property law” — while most of its other worldwide offices also disappeared from its contact page, and its leadership team shrunk to only two names — CEO Ross Bott and CTO Ari Backholm, the latter of whom appears to have been promoted from his earlier role of SVP of Analytics and Market Development.
It therefore seems most likely that Seven Networks was originally a legitimate company that either chose to become — or was gobbled up by — a patent troll. Many of the 16 patents in question appear to have been legitimately filed for and granted to Seven Networks itself back when the company was still in active operation, rather than being purchased as a portfolio from another company, which is the approach that many patent trolls take.
Of course, if Seven Networks’ patents are actually legitimate, it certainly has the right to bring a lawsuit against Apple, and the timing of the suit may simply be opportunism on the company’s part; the fact that the company is much more likely to get a favourable ruling in the Eastern District of Texas doesn’t automatically mean that its case is invalid, and that will ultimately be up to the courts to decide.