Recently, there has been a shift by patent trolls to go after the users of everyday technology rather than the creator of the technology. One of the main advantages in targeting small companies who are the users of patented technology is that small companies are less likely to have patent attorneys on staff and might be easily frightened into paying these licensing fees without a fight. Patent licensing companies make these demands by sending out letters to small companies alleging that the use of certain technologies within their company require they pay licensing fees (usually the fee is per user).
An example of this patent trolling behavior started from an anonymous entity knows simply as Project Paperless LLC. This company sent out letters to small size Atlanta area companies saying that anyone using an office scanner to scan documents to e-mail would have to pay $1,000 per user. One of the companies in receipt of this letter was Blue Wave Computing, an Atlanta based IT services provider. When the founder of the company Steven Vicinanza called the attorney representing Project Paperless he was told that if a scanner was set up to e-mail and PDF a document, there is a patent in place for that process and Blue Wave would need to pay licensing fees for it. Once in receipt of these Project Paperless demands, some companies fought back while others simply paid up without asking any questions. Others simply ignored the letter completely. Blue Wave was one of the companies who fought back in part by filing a third-party complaint against the companies that had actually made the scanners effectively doing what Project Paperless hoped to avoid. In the end, the lawsuit against Blue Wave was dropped and Vicianza was victorious. Rather than stop their outlandish demands, Project Paperless broke into eight different shell companies that continue to harass small businesses with patent breach letters.
Unfortunately, it seems likely that these patent trolls will continue to bully small companies into paying licensing fees for the use of everyday office technology. Professor Colleen Chien of Santa Clara University found that in the past year 55 percent of defendants to patent troll lawsuits were against companies with less than $10 million in annual revenue and that 40 percent of the time, these threats were targeted to the end users of the technology rather than the creators. While it seems probable that some companies will naively pay these fees, it is hopeful that more companies will take forceful action like Blue Wave in an attempt to combat this behavior.