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Patent troll strikes NYT, media industry over mobile web sites

Jeff John Roberts

A shell company is suing the New York Times, the Huffington Post and five other media companies over patents related to mobile computing.

In a series of complaints filed in Delaware, Clouding IP LLC claims the media outlets are infringing on two patents from 2005 and 2007 entitled “technique for enabling remote data access and manipulation from a pervasive device.”

Clouding IP, formed in February of 2012, points to readers’ ability to read the New York Times’ website and mobile apps through a smartphone as evidence of infringement:

New York Times has infringed and continues to infringe the ’481 patent by, among other things, making, using, offering for sale, selling and/or importing products and/orservices in the United States that enable access to and manipulation of data using a pervasive device, such as a mobile phone, by receiving a data request from a pervasive device, obtaining the requested data, determining the available data manipulation operations and locations of such operations for the obtained data and returning the obtained data and the data manipulation operations and locations to the pervasive device.

In separate filings, Clouding IP makes similar allegations against Time Inc, the Huffington Post, Reuters, Ti-Media, Gannett Co and Fox News. Earlier this year, it also sued major tech companies, including Amazon, Apple and Google. A New York Times spokesperson declined to comment on the Clouding IP lawsuit.

Richard Kirk, the head lawyer for Clouding IP, did not immediately return a request for comment about the identity of his client or elaborate on the alleged infringement. The people behind Clouding IP are likely to remain a mystery because Delaware is one of three states that permit shell companies to be owned and managed anonymously.

This is not the first time the New York Times has been targeted by a so-called “patent troll” — shell firms backed by investors who make a business of obtaining old patents and then suing those who refuse to license them. Last year, a company called Boadin Technologies sued the Times, Bloomberg and others for using the common feature known as autocomplete. The Times elected to fight that suit, and recent court filings show the parties agreed to dismiss the case with each side paying their own costs. In August, the NYT’s general counsel described the troll activities as a “tax for being on the Internet.”

The trolls represent a dilemma for cash-strapped media businesses because it can cost millions in legal fees to defend a patent suit. Paying the unwanted license fee may be a cheaper option than going to court; however, doing so may encourage other trolls to seek their own payments.

In a rare piece of good news for potential targets of such shell companies, the US Patent Office proposed a rule to force patent trolls to identify their real owners. This comes during a week in which another patent troll sued America’s major retailers for using online chat.

Clouding IP LLC

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