Twitter’s Ben Lee: Tax the Trolls! (or “Cost-shifting as a deterrent to frivolous patent litigation.”)

This is an interesting opinion piece by Twitter’s Ben Lee. I absolutely agree with his proposition that US IP enforcement laws should include a cost shifting mechanism (i.e. loser pays winner’s attorneys’ fees) where the litigation is found to be frivolous. Frivolous litigation clearly is an unwanted economic drain. Unfortunately, however, such cost shifting mechanisms do not address the issues created by NPEs (i.e. patent trolls) who amass intellectual property portfolios in order to become virtual gatekeepers on the road of technological advancement. That is an issue which will require a much more subtle, nuanced approach, balancing the benefits of rewarding innovation while preventing the financial road-blocking of further innovation.


Twitter is an engineering company, and engineers like to innovate. Twitter is also well known, and, as a result, we receive patent threats and lawsuits from time to time. Many of these are baseless, and our policy is to fight them with all our might. In fact, we have never agreed to pay to settle a patent suit.

Still, even meritless lawsuits cost us money in attorney fees, and force our engineers to spend time with lawyers rather than improving our product. For example, we recently won a case regarding U.S. Patent No. 6,408,309, entitled “Method and System for Creating an Interactive Virtual Community of Famous People.” After a trial before a jury, we managed to prove that we didn’t infringe and that the asserted claims from the patent were invalid. This patent was “invented” by a patent lawyer, Dinesh Agarwal. According to his own testimony at trial, Mr. Agarwal…

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