SparkFun Strikes Back Against the Patent Menace
Electronics equipment manufacturer SparkFun declares victory in their months-long battle against “patent troll” Altair Logix.
The Patent Menace
SparkFun (noun): “we just design and manufacture cool products for people who are excited about building electronics projects” while also doing other fun things over the years like soldering competitions, April Fool’s Day products, and providing educational materials for the maker community.
Patent troll (noun): a derogatory term describing a company that has no intention of developing a product from a patent, but only wishes to profit using legal threats, coercion, and loopholes in the legal system against those actually developing and selling the products
Attack of the Trolls
Back at the end of June, SparkFun founder Nathan Seidle described their initial foray into a legal battle with “patent troll” Altair Logix. The claim by Altair Logix was that SparkFun was in violation of US patent 6289434 that covered an “apparatus and method of implementing systems on silicon using dynamic-adaptive run-time reconfigurable circuits for processing multiple, independent data and control streams of varying rates.”
This isn't the first time Altair Logix has gone after another company for violating a patent they've purchased. It isn't even the first time they've gone after another company for violating this patent. In fact, in the last two years, Altair Logix has pursued litigation against no fewer than 18 companies including Texas Instruments, Boeing, Earth Networks, and Universal Remote Control—all for violation of the same "'434" patent.
IP Edge, the reported parent company of Altair Logix, is likewise involved in hundreds of patent litigation cases as the plaintiff. It also has 200+ other subsidiaries, including Pantarus, MagnaCross LLC, Dynavair, and Venadium, all of which have also been accused of patent trollery for going after companies like LG, Huawei, and literally hundreds of others.
So, the battle with SparkFun did not appear to be Altair Logix’s first, or likely last, legal rodeo.
The SparkFun product in question was a long discontinued development board called the pcDuino.
The pcDuino in question. (What all the fuss is about.) Image used courtesy of SparkFun.
Seidle claimed that SparkFun sold a grand total of 221 units and suggested to Altair Logix, “you want to sue us for $500 worth of made-up royalties to use your bogus patent? Sure. Come get it.”
Revenge of the SparkFun
In that original article, Seidle noted that he knew he was taking a risk by “poking a stick at” Altair Logix and their legal representatives. He also mentioned the terror that accompanies being a small business that is being sued when you really need to stay focused “on building things, keeping the lights on, and keeping people employed.”
Despite the trepidation associated with the upcoming legal battle, Seidle believed that it was “far more important to pull back the curtain on questionable and unethical business practices.”
In that article, Seidle humorously reviews the details of both the patent and the lawsuit. It is worth a read.
A New Hope
Now, four months later, SparkFun founder Nathan Seidle has penned a followup article describing the company's recent victory against the patent troll. While Seidle was apparently able to maintain his sense of humor throughout the legal process, it still cost the small business the non-trivial amount of $12,645—money they certainly would have preferred to use on making more cool products.
Seidel took the opportunity to throw shade at the patent troll by pointing out what a fulfilling job looks like (for example, the cool things SparkFun hardware is doing in the world, like tracking glaciers in the Arctic). Image used courtesy of SparkFun.
Seidel has long been open about SparkFun’s assorted legal battles with one goal being to provide some insight to other small businesses that face similar challenges. In his closing words of encouragement to other small businesses being threatened by patent trolls, Seidle stated, “I hope you never get sued by a troll but if you do, take a deep breath. Realize you're not powerless. The more we all realize that and the more we band together, the more they go away.”