Offering Reward, Lawyer Aims to Unmask Blogger
Robert Ambrogi - Editor
Raymond P. Niro, a highly successful plaintiffs' patent lawyer who inspired an
opponent to coin the term "patent troll" in reference to him, has offered a $10,000
reward to unmask the anonymous lawyer who writes the Patent Troll Tracker
blog. The lawyer says he wants to expose the blogger's bias, while the blogger asserts
his secrecy is in keeping with a grand American tradition of anonymous criticism.
The heat is on: If he has not unmasked the blogger by Feb. 1, Niro will increase the reward to $15,000, he told Bullseye.
"Seems to me that people who have something meaningful to say ought to have the courage to identify themselves and stand behind what they say," Niro said in an e-mail. "Is this person a shill for some giant infringer? Is he or she employed by companies that frequently infringe patents? Why the anti-plaintiff bias?"
As for Troll Tracker, he has nothing against Niro, he wrote in an e-mail to Bullseye. "I actually think he's a great lawyer for his clients. He defines the term 'zealous advocacy' in the ethical rules. I have reported about several of his clients, and I guess that got him upset, because as with many patent trolls, publicity is not a good thing."
Niro first offered the reward, then $5,000, by way of a December 2007 article about him in the magazine IP Law & Business. "I'll offer $5,000 to anyone that can provide information that leads me to the identity of Troll Tracker," the magazine quoted him as saying. "I view these people [anonymous bloggers] as know-nothings, afraid to reveal their identity."
He later raised the ante via a note posted at the blog, Patent Baristas.
The Patent Troll Tracker blog has included several posts about cases Niro and his Chicago law firm have been involved in. Several of the posts have concerned a case pending in Illinois in which Niro represents the plaintiff in a suit against Google.
That case drew national attention after it came to light that the inventor of the patent held by Niro's client was a senior partner at the law firm Fish & Richardson, which represented Google. The revelation led the firm to fire the partner, Scott Harris, and led Niro to add Fish & Richardson as a defendant in the Illinois lawsuit.
LEADS COMING IN
But Niro told Bullseye that the blog's coverage of the Illinois case had nothing to do with his decision to offer the reward. Rather, he is concerned that the blogger "proclaims objectivity, but has a clear big-company, poor-defendant bias."
"My hope is that, by forcing the disclosure of the identity of Troll Tracker, the public can gain some perspective about why this person says what he/she does," Niro said. "A reward seems like the best way to learn Troll Tracker's identity and it also seems to be working."
Since offering the reward, Niro said, "leads are coming in and suspects have been identified and are being checked." If he has not positively identified the blogger by Feb. 1, he added, he will increase the reward to $15,000.
Troll Tracker, who describes himself as a lawyer who has devoted his career to patent law, defends his anonymity as consistent with a long tradition of anonymous speech that allows people in our country to express unpopular opinions.
"When I started the blog, practically every other patent law blog out there was anti-reform, pro-strongest-possible-patent-protection," he explains. "I felt there was a big hole – a big need for a different perspective, and I felt that anonymous blogging was the best way to fill that hole."
Practical reasons added to his desire to remain anonymous – he did not want people at his job to know. Now, however, he has revealed his blogging to selected colleagues at work, "just in case the bounty works."
"I want people to associate my opinions with me, and not my employer or my clients," he explains. "Moreover, many of the entities I 'profile' are quite litigious. Loss of anonymity may lead to frivolous lawsuits against me, my employer, and/or my clients, by those who want to shut me up."
The term "patent troll" was first used in reference to Niro, he confirms. Ironically, the lawyer who labeled Niro a troll, former Intel assistant general counsel Peter Detkin, is now managing director of Intellectual Ventures, "a company in the business of purchasing patents by the hundreds," as Niro wrote in a 2007 article published in The John Marshall Review of Intellectual Property Law.
"My point is this: We should debate legal issues on the merits without name-calling," Niro writes. "Just as the public is becoming skeptical of negative advertisements in political campaigns so, too, are judges and juries with the use of pejorative terms like 'trolls,' 'parasite,' 'extortionist' in patent cases."
As for Troll Tracker, he calls the whole incident "silly." For him, the real story lies in examining how the Patent Office could have issued many of the patents he discusses on his blog and why there has been such a dramatic increase in patent lawsuits in recent years.