Anyone who visited Soverain Software’s website could be forgiven for believing it’s a real company. There are separate pages for “products,” “services,” and “solutions.” There’s the “About Us” page. There are phone numbers and e-mail addresses for sales and tech support. There’s even a login page for customers.
It’s all a sham. Court records show Soverain hasn’t made a sale—ever. The various voice mailboxes were all set up by Katherine Wolanyk, the former Latham & Watkins attorney who is a co-founder and partial owner of Soverain. And the impressive list of big corporate customers on its webpage? Those are deals struck with another company, more than a decade ago. That was OpenMarket, a software company that created these patents before going out of business in 2001. It sold its assets to a venture capital fund called divine interVentures, which in turn sold the OpenMarket patents to Soverain Software in 2003.
Soverain isn’t in the e-commerce business; it’s in the higher-margin business of filing patent lawsuits against e-commerce companies. And it has been quite successful until now. The company’s plan to extract a patent tax of about one percent of revenue from a huge swath of online retailers was snuffed out last week by Newegg and its lawyers, who won an appeal ruling [PDF] that invalidates the three patents Soverain used to spark a vast patent war.
For Newegg’s Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng, it’s a huge validation of the strategy the company decided to pursue back in 2007: not to settle with patent trolls. Ever.
“We basically took a look at this situation and said, ‘This is bullsh%$,'” (%$ mine) said Cheng in an interview with Ars. “We saw that if we paid off this patent holder, we’d have to pay off every patent holder this same amount. This is the first case we took all the way to trial. And now, nobody has to pay Soverain jack squat for these patents.”
Soverain’s plans were always bigger than Amazon and Newegg. It wanted nothing less than to extract a patent tax from the entire retail sector, using three patents it claimed covered pretty much any use of “shopping cart” technology.
Just saying “do it on the Internet” isn’t a novel invention, the appeals court ruled [PDF]. The three-judge panel found that all of the “shopping cart” patent claims were rendered obvious in light of the CompuServe Mall.
I think that in the future, I’ll Newegg will be at the top of my list for shopping.