Judge Favors Conn. Company in Patent Infringement Suit

by Beau Berman

Nov. 9, 2014

MIDDLEFIELD, CONN. – A federal judge in California ruled in favor a Connecticut racing photography company last week, finding a patent infringement suit against Capstone Photography invalid.

Judge Christina A. Snyder of the Central District of California ruled that the three patents challenged by businessman Peter Wolf invalid, determining them ineligible subject matter for patent protection.

Judge Snyder referenced 35 USC Section 101 in her October 28th ruling.

It’s a victory for Middlefield, Conn. company Capstone Photography after a lengthy court battle that cost the company $100,000 according to owner, Michael Skelps.

“It was a shock,” said Skelps when he first saw the lawsuit in January 2014. 

capstone

Capstone Photography of Middlefield, Conn.

Wolf, owner of Photocrazy.com filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Capstone Photography on December 31st 2013.

wolf

Peter Wolf – owner, PhotoCrazy.com

He alleged that Skelps’ company committed “willful infringement of the three patents” registered by Wolf.

Wolf claimed that Capstone essentially used his methods of cataloging race photos online without paying licensing fees to him. 

He demanded thousands of dollars in damages and thousands per year as a licensing fee for use of his multiple related patents.

But Skelps and Capstone Photography hired attorneys to fight the patent infringement claims in court.

capstone-photography

Michael Skelps – owner, Capstone Photography

“In this case, the Court finds that the “basic character of the claimed subject matter is readily ascertainable from the face of the patent,” and that plaintiff’s arguments for delaying the § 101 inquiry are unpersuasive,” wrote Judge Snyder, in her opinion.

THE JUDGE’S RULING

The Judge determined that Wolf’s patents were relatively basic in nature.

“The Court finds that the practically identical ‘214 and ‘875 patents are directed to the abstract idea of providing event photographs organized by participant, as applied using the internet. As the specification explains, event photographers traditionally The Court finds that the practically identical ‘214 and ‘875 patents are directed to the abstract idea of providing event photographs organized by participant, as applied using the internet. As the specification explains, event photographers traditionally,” wrote Snyder in her opinion.

This wasn’t the first time Peter Wolf sued a company for alleged patent infringement.

He’s sued a dozen other companies, and each one eventually chose to settle and pay Wolf, instead of continuing to fight in court.

“I’m really sorry to see Mr. Skelps head down the same path that a dozen other people have. I think he’s just going to spend an awful lot of money with attorneys, when we could sit down and come to a reasonable agreement and move on with life,” said Wolf in May 2014.

But Skelps chose to fight the suit, refusing to settle.

He says it forced him to layoff two staff members and create a fundraising website to seek help covering legal costs.

PATENT TROLLS

Wolf was described as a “patent troll” in some online blogs.

Patent Troll is a negative term to describe someone who establishes patents, not necessarily to use the idea, but more often to aggressively sue other companies who use the idea.

“That’s not at all the case with me. I don’t fit that definition and I take offense to someone calling me a patent troll. I’m simply defending some ideas that I invented and I expect other people to respect those patents,” said Wolf in May.

He did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling.

CAPSTONE NOT ALONE

Capstone isn’t the only Connecticut company that’s been sued for patent infringement recently according to Attorney General George Jepsen.

“They typically prey on small businesses and realize that they would run up far more costs in legal fees than they would just to pay the licensing agreement and get rid of it,” says Jepsen.

Jepsen didn’t comment directly on the Capstone case, but he has kept an eye on others in the state.

On average nationally, it costs just under $1 Million dollars in attorneys’ fees just to fight a patent lawsuit in court, win or lose.

Last year, Attorney Generals in 42 states, including Connecticut, expressed support for anti-patent troll legislation pending in the U.S. Senate, already approved by the House.

But it’s a complicated job finding a balance between so-called patent trolls and those who are not “rent collectors” but business owners who sue to defend patents in the field they actually practice.

“It’s trying to sort through so that legitimate patent infringement can be enforced but small businesses are not victimized by those who would prey on them,” says Jepsen.

COURT BATTLE CONCLUDES

In the Wolf case, the Judge didn’t call him a Patent Troll, but she did rule strongly against his case.

“The court finds that all three of the patents in suit are directed to patent-ineligible abstract ideas, and lack an inventive concept that would make them patent-ineligible applications of those ideas,” wrote Judge Snyder.

With that, the court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings.

“It’s not a complete happy ending in that our legal bills have racked up to $100,000, but at least we will have the chance to stay in business,” said Skelps.

Skelps created www.endpatentabuse.com to share his story and unite other companies facing similar infringement lawsuits.

Screenshot from Endpatentabuse.com

Screen shot from Endpatentabuse.com

“After a ten month ordeal and about $100,000 in legal expenses, Capstone Photography is pleased to announce that a Federal Judge has ruled in our favor and declared three patents are ineligible for patent protection under 35 USC Section 101.  The lawsuit is over and Capstone has prevailed.  Thank you for all of your support,” he posted to the site after the judge’s ruling.

We are grateful to be vindicated by the courts, as we knew we would be.  The photography business is now better for these rulings, open to free and fair competition that is the basis for our American economy,” wrote Skelps. 

While the case is complete, Skelps is now asking others to donate to his legal defense fund to defray costs he racked up during his legal fight.