DAVID RAUDALES

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This Entrepreneur Turned A Nasty Patent Fight Into A Compelling Film

There is little question that patent trolls harm the U.S. economy. Fortunately, two recent Supreme Court rulings have made it more difficult and less lucrative for trolls to sue emerging entrepreneurs.

Sadly, these professional litigants, who invent nothing and make their living threatening entrepreneurs with specious lawsuits, may be making a comeback. Their powerful lobbying efforts have influenced recent congressional activity, including the STRONG Patents Act.   

Don’t Feed The Trolls

For anyone unsure of the personal pain and financial hardship that patent trolls exact on entrepreneurs, I highly recommend The Patent Scam movie.

Austin Meyer, an entrepreneur turned filmmaker, highlights the negative impact of questionable intellectual property lawsuits by interviewing entrepreneurs whose personal lives, and businesses, have been heavily impacted by troll attacks.

I reached out to Mr. Meyer to better understand what motivated him to underwrite and create The Patent Scam. Despite being in the midst of wrapping up a new documentary, he graciously granted me the following interview, which has been lightly edited for brevity and readability.

John Greathouse: Austin, thanks for taking the time to chat. Before we talk about your crusade to defeat patent trolls, let’s start with your startup story. What led you to create the highly successful flight simulator program, X-plane?

Austin Meyer: I was just not happy with the lack of flexibility of Microsoft Flight Sim. I was flying a Piper Archer at the time in Southern California, and Microsoft Flight Sim just did not have that as an option, or even the ability to customize to that option. So, the only way I could find to simulate the airplane I was flying, and region I was flying, was to do it myself.

Now here is where it gets a little interesting – once I had the tools written to make my airplane and flying region, I suddenly had an epiphany. These tools can be used to make any airplane, with any airfoils, flying in any place on earth. And that was how Airfoil-Maker, Plane-Maker, and World-Maker were born. X-Plane is the flight simulator that flies the airplanes that anyone can enter in Plane-Maker.

Greathouse: It was your success with X-Plane that put you in a position to give the trolls a run for their money. What motivated you to fight, rather than settle? I’ve seen settlement rates from 2017 estimated at 87%. Were there times that you wished you’d just cut them a check and moved on?

Meyer: After a year or so of frustration and legal fees and realizing that if I gave in to the patent troll, I would probably have to sign a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent me from telling anyone what had happened to me, I was standing at the kitchen counter thinking, “What is the thing I could do that the trolls that they would hate the most?” and it was suddenly obvious.

Instead of pretending the patent was valid and paying them money, I would do the exact opposite – overturn the patent, pay them nothing and make a documentary movie.

They offered to drop the case against me if I just gave them $50,000. In addition to giving them cash money, sometimes to overseas bank accounts to avoid paying income tax, patent trolls typically demand that you sign a non-disclosure agreement, so you can never tell anyone what they are doing.

Making The Patent Scam and fighting the frivolous lawsuit cost me well over $500,000. So, it cost me over ten times as much money to do the right thing, but I would rather pay over $500,000, well-spent, than be trolled for $50,000.

I was under constant stress dealing with that lawsuit and making the movie. But, and this is extremely important, the lawsuit was terrible stress and cost, with zero up-side. While the movie was fun stress and cost, with plenty of friends made, connections gained, travel, adventure, things learned, and a great product at the end. Was it worth over ten times the money do it my way? Oh yea. I never for a second wished I had cut them a check and moved on… not for a microsecond.

The moment I decided to make a movie about them, instead of signing a non-disclosure agreement, my stress changed from rage to adventure, and once I had the revelation, there was zero chance I would ever consider going back for even a moment.

Greathouse: I’m glad you have no regrets and have created some positive memories from an otherwise negative experience. Your film has positive ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, IMBD, Amazon Prime, etc. The folks who have watched it, liked it, but I’m curious as to the overall reaction in the IP (intellectual property) world.

Meyer: I got one IP lawyer who emailed me, saying, “You made some in-accurate statements in your movie.” I emailed back saying. “Wrong. I checked every single line in that movie for accuracy at least three times. You give me one inaccurate statement in that movie.” Crickets. No reply.

Greathouse: The trolls may have questionable ethics, but many of them are also rather intelligent. How have they morphed their tactics since your movie was released?

Meyer: Now that the Supreme Court has finally said that the trolls have to sue you where you live, not in the East District of Texas troll hive (see the movie to fully understand this tactic), the trolls do two things: Ask for smaller settlements. Maybe $5,000 instead of $50,000 or $315,000, which was the average when the movie was made, and (they now) go after the big companies, like Microsoft and Apple.

Greathouse: Though the system is clearly not perfect, it’s good to hear that some progress in the legal system has been made since The Patent Scam was released. Are these recent changes in IP law prompting lawmakers to create the STRONG Patents Act? I’m not an expert in this area, but it appears that most of the support for the bill is from lawyers who sue people for alleged infringement – am I oversimplifying things here?

Meyer: You’re not over-simplifying at all. The system is broken.

Now Senators are listening to the lawyers whispering in their ears and proposing a law that would simply give the trolls more ability to extort us all.

Remember, I was sued for using the Google Play Store. Does anyone else use the Google Play Store? Of course they do. The IP lawyers want as many targets as possible, and as much leverage as possible against those targets, and have talked certain Senators into giving it to them.

Greathouse: I’m sure everyone who watched The Patent Scam is interested to know how your suit was resolved – at least, I’m hoping it was resolved at this point.

Meyer: Overturned the patent for what it actually was – garbage.

It vaguely described something that computers had been doing for years before the patent was even filed, so the patent was obvious garbage just right on the face of it. Of course, with lawyers involved, that still took years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove the obvious to the United States Patent Office. The Patent should never have been granted in the first place, and we had to prove that.

Imagine trying to prove something to the Federal Government that they did something wrong and force them to reverse their decision. That’s what we had to do, and ultimately, over many years, did. That’s what you have to do when you defend against a patent troll.

Greathouse: I understand that you’re currently working on a new documentary. Where you are pointing your investigatory light this time around?

Meyer: Twenty states in this Country do not have any Tesla showrooms. Ever wondered why?

Would it surprise you to learn that the car dealers have given campaign contributions to the state lawmakers to have it made illegal for Tesla to have a showroom in their state? That’s why you can’t get a test drive in a Tesla in half the states in this Country – the car dealers have had it outlawed.

The pollution, lower safety, oil-addiction, oil changes, trade deficit from importing cars, endless maintenance… we don’t need any of that. Tesla solves all of those problems. So, the car dealers are working relentlessly to have Tesla showrooms banned from their home states.

That’s my next documentary, filming recently wrapped up, now time to edit. Your readers can check out AustinMeyer.com, from time to time, where I’ll announce when the film is ready for release.

You can follow John on Twitter: @johngreathouse.

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