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Patent-challenging site expands its focus

Article One Partners begins to focus on bad patents outside of lawsuits

Crowdsourced, patent-busting website Article One Partners has expanded its focus beyond serving as a resource during patent lawsuits, with its community of researchers now also focused on invalidating patents that aren't tied up in court.

Article One Partners, which has awarded nearly US$1.4 million to patent researchers since launching in 2008, is offering a new litigation avoidance service, allowing clients to target suspect patents that aren't part of active lawsuits, CEO and founder Cheryl Milone said. Microsoft has signed up as the first customer of the litigation avoidance program, she said.

With the new service, "our clients are working with us to identify patents of potential low quality," Milone said. When Article One Partners identifies bad patents, it will file re-examination requests with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, she said.

Until now, Article One Partners focused on patents related to ongoing lawsuits. In late 2010, the company targeted patents owned by NTP, a patent holding company best known for winning a $612.5 million patent settlement in 2006 from Blackberry vendor Research in Motion (RIM). Article One Partners gave awards to four researchers in the NTP challenges.

Article One Partners targets questionable patents and asks a community of more than 1 million researchers from 139 countries to find so-called prior art, evidence of the invention in use before a patent was applied for. The company mostly focuses on so-called non practicing entities, patent holders that don't bring their inventions to market or that buy up patents for purposes of collecting licensing fees or lawsuit awards.

"Because they're buying and asserting so many, the highest percentage of low-quality patents tends to fall in that category of patent owner," Milone said.

Non practicing entities "continue to actively target large technology companies," Bart Eppenauer, chief patent counsel at Microsoft, said in a statement. The new service from Article One Partners will help Microsoft and other clients avoid patent lawsuits, he said.

The litigation avoidance service will challenge newly purchased patents held by companies that "consistently assert them," Milone said. "The identification of patents will be based on patents we expect to be in litigation soon," she added.

She expects that community of researchers will find strong evidence to invalid patents in about 20 percent of the patents the company targets.

Since 2008, Article One Partners has launched more than 210 studies to challenge patents, and it has given awards to 129 researchers. The company gives cash awards to the highest quality evidence produced in a study, and it also shares its profits with community members.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.


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