Free speech in the patent world saw a big win on Friday, when the New Hampshire Supreme Court held that calling someone a “patent troll” doesn’t constitute defamation. The court’s opinion [PDF] is good news for critics of abusive patent litigation, and anyone who values robust public debate around patent policy. The opinion represents a loss for Automated Transactions, LLC (ATL), a patent assertion entity that sued [PDF] more than a dozen people and trade groups claiming it was defamed.
EFF worked together with the ACLU of New Hampshire to file an amicus brief [PDF] in this case, explaining that the lower court judge got this case right when he ruled against ATL. That decision gave wide latitude for public debate about important policy issues—even when the debate veers into harsh language. We’re glad the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed.
Last week’s ruling court notes that “patent troll” is a phrase used to describe “a class of patent owners who do not provide end products or services themselves, but who do demand royalties as a price for authorizing the work of others.” However, the justices note that “patent troll” has no clear settled definition. For instance, some observers of the patent world would exclude particular entities, like individual inventors or universities, from the moniker “patent troll.”
Because of this, when ATL’s many critics call it a “patent troll,” they are expressing their subjective opinions. Differences of opinion about many things—including patent lawsuits—cannot and should not be settled with a defamation lawsuit.
Personally, I would call ATL a bunch of pig felching patent trolling rat bastards, which I think is protected too.