Appeals Court Takes No Time At All In Rejecting Patent Troll's Ridiculous Lawsuit Against Cloudflare

You may recall that back in May of 2017, a patent trolling operation called Blackbird Technologies picked on the wrong internet company to troll. Having built up some success blasting frivolous lawsuits at other internet companies, it chose to go after Cloudflare. That was a mistake. Cloudflare didn’t just hit back, it promised to destroy the patent trolling firm, Blackbird Technologies. It opened up a campaign to crowdsource prior art not just on the patent at issue in its lawsuit but on every patent that Blackbird Technology claimed to hold.

Almost exactly a year ago, Cloudflare won its case with the court invalidating the patent. It was such an easy decision that it took US District Court Judge Vince Chhabria barely over a page explaining why the patent was so clearly invalid and the case was dismissed.

Blackbird, for reasons that escape me, decided to appeal to the Federal Circuit. Now, we’ve spent the better part of two decades mocking the Federal Circuit and its history of nutty decisions, but there are some cases so obviously bad that even the CAFC can’t fuck them up. This is one. A CAFC panel heard the case last week and found the situation so utterly stupid that it only took a few days for it to affirm the lower court ruling. Indeed, its ruling is even shorter than the district court’s ruling. The CAFC opinion doesn’t even say anything other than: “Affirmed.”

Ouch.

According to Cloudflare’s General Counsel, Doug Kramer, in a blog post on Cloudflare’s site, the CAFC panel didn’t have a single question for the company’s lawyers (which is nearly unheard of), leaving him with tons of extra time:

A panel of three judges from that court heard arguments on the appeal last Friday, but didn’t ask our attorney a single question about the substance of our argument on the abstractness of the patent. He sat down with almost half of his 15 minutes of argument time left because there was nothing more to say. Yesterday, just three business days after that hearing, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision in summary fashion, which means they didn’t even write about the claims or arguments, they just said “Affirmed” (see below).

Of course, as Kramer further notes in the post, even “easy victories” take a ton of time and resources, not to mention other kinds of costs that can impact a business in lots of ways:

Blackbird filed this case in March 16, 2017. For nearly two years, anyone doing due diligence on Cloudflare might have had questions about whether there was a cloud over our rights to our technology. And we had to go through a lot of briefing, and the related legal expenses, to get to this point. Blackbird’s combined legal filings at the district court and appellate court amounted to more than 650 pages, our responsive briefs were more than 900 pages.

The two courts spent less than two pages describing a result that was obvious to them, but it took us two years of uncertainty and cost to get there. Federal court litigation doesn’t make anything easy. Even if Blackbird had won the case, it is not clear they would have been able to collect significant damages. Our allegedly infringing use was not a product or feature that we charged for or made money from – it was essentially posting interstitial messages for various errors. Even though we were able to win this case early in the legal process and keep our costs as low as possible, it’s possible we spent more money resolving this matter than Blackbird would have been able to collect from us after trial.

This is why trolling works. This is why so many plaintiffs use the judicial system as a weapon, even when their lawsuits clearly have no merit. Even to get an “easy win” you can lose, big time.

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