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Rackspace challenges lawsuit-happy patent holder

The cloud hosting provider files a petition to have rotating screen patent invalidated

Cloud hosting provider Rackspace Hosting is striking back against patent holder Rotatable Technologies, a Texas company that has filed patent infringement cases against more than a dozen companies in the past year.

Rackspace on Friday filed a challenge to a 2001 Rotatable patent for selectively rotating windows on a computer display, using a relatively new patent challenge method created in the America Invents Act, patent reform legislation the U.S. Congress passed in 2011.

Rotatable asserts that its patent "covers the screen rotation technology standard in just about every smartphone," Alan Schoenbaum, Rackspace's general counsel, wrote in a blog post. "You know, when you flip your device sideways and the screen shifts orientation from portrait mode to landscape mode?"

Rackspace, like many mobile apps, uses standard functionality in Apple's libraries and in Android open-source software to provide this display feature in one of its mobile cloud applications, Schoenbaum wrote.

Schoenbaum and other critics have called Rotatable a patent troll because it has filed similar infringement complaints against many companies. "Rotatable provides a textbook case of patent extortion," he wrote. "Trolls ... cast as wide a net as possible."

Since last May, Rotatable has filed patent infringement lawsuits against more than 20 companies, including Apple, Motorola Mobility, Nokia, HTC, ViewSonic, Samsung Electronics, Netflix, Electronic Arts and Lenovo.

Many so-called patent trolls file lawsuits but seek to reach a settlement before the cases go to trial. The settlements then can fund future lawsuits against more companies.

Rackspace is challenging the patent under a provision of the America Invents Act called the inter partes review, which allows petitioners to ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to review whether it is valid. In the petition, Rackspace asserts that rotating computer screens were covered by earlier patents and being used in software before the Rotatable patent.

The inter partes review provision of the law went into effect in September, and petitioners have filed nearly 250 inter partes review requests with the USPTO.

The lawyer for Rotatable didn't immediately respond to a request for comments on Rackspace's challenge.

Rackspace, founder of the OpenStack cloud software project, believes it needs to challenge patent infringement lawsuits to protect the open-source community, Schoenbaum said in an interview. Open-source software is especially vulnerable to patent trolls because the code is out in the open, he said.

The company is also defending itself against infringement lawsuits involving OpenStack, he added.

The inter partes petition at the USPTO will cost Rackspace more than settling with Rotatable, but the company believes it's important to strike back, Schoenbaum said.

"At this point, we're tired of the game," Schoenbaum said. "I don't think this particular patent troll bargained for this outcome."

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 [email protected]


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