FTC plans investigation of patent 'trolls' that target First National Bank, others

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Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 12:00 am

Companies such as First National Bank of Omaha might be in for some relief from patent lawsuits, according to The New York Times.

The paper reported Friday that the Federal Trade Commission plans to start a "sweeping investigation" of so-called patent trolls, or companies that buy computer and software patents and sue companies alleged to have infringed upon them.

First National, the largest bank based in the state, was sued last month by Intellectual Ventures, one of the busiest filers of patent lawsuits. IV said in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Omaha that various aspects of First National's security, cyber and digital distribution efforts infringed upon its patents.

Patent-assertion entities such as IV typically have no operations other than collecting royalties on patents, the Times said. Such companies accounted for more than 60 percent of the 4,000 or so patent lawsuits that were filed last year, the paper said.

The paper said some of the patent lawsuits "exceed comprehension." One such suit, the paper said, threatened thousands of companies with liability for violating a patent by hooking up a document scanner to a computer network and emailing the scanned document.

First National Chief Executive Dan O'Neill said at the company's annual meeting Wednesday in Omaha that the IV suit from last month is not the first, with roughly a dozen or so others having been filed earlier. He said the suits are usually over computer technology the company has bought from a supplier, often a top national vendor.

The purchase agreement, O'Neill said, usually protects First National from liability from lawsuits alleging infringement of patents in technology supplied by the vendor. Still, he said, the suits must be defended, at least initially, and that legal costs are incurred.

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