After a long hiatus, one of the most infamous ‘patent trolls’ in the nation is back, and it’s going after its biggest target yet—Facebook.
Back in 2007 and 2008, FotoMedia sued more than 60 photo-sharing companies, claiming its patents entitled it to payments on pretty much all types of photo-sharing software. Many of those companies ultimately were forced to pay a settlement to FotoMedia, including companies like FotoTime, a small Texas software company that I profiled back in 2009.
Most of the small companies that make their living filing patent lawsuits don’t get much press attention at all, much less get spotlighted by the national media. FotoMedia ended up being the exception, though. A few months ago, the plight of FotoTime was broadcast quite widely when its founder, Jeff Kelling, was interviewed on a This American Life episode discussing the problem of ‘patent trolls.’
Kelling told Glass that FotoMedia was able to squeeze his company for a settlement that was enough to endanger his business’ existence, but not quite enough to make it close shop. “The settlement they wanted to get was just enough to put us in danger, but not to close us, and I’ll stop there,” said Kelling, who is legally barred from disclosing the terms of the settlement.
In addition to Facebook, FotoMedia’s new lawsuit has targeted MySpace, Tagged (tagged.com), and Memory Lane, which owns classmates.com. The six patents FotoMedia is using have various origins. A few originated with a defunct photo-sharing site called Opholio—the same company where the patents used in FotoMedia’s 07-08 litigation originated.
This lawsuit also brings in two patents that originated with an engineer at Flashpoint, a camera software company that was an Apple spinoff, which today is basically a patent-licensing company. Flashpoint is closely related to FotoMedia in more than one way. In addition to having provided FotoMedia many of the patents it’s now bringing to court, Flashpoint’s CEO is Stanley Fry, who sources and court documents indicate is the father of FotoMedia CEO Ryan Fry.
To go after what is by far the world’s biggest photo-sharing site, FotoMedia has teamed up with a new, bigger law firm—Kilpatrick Townsend, one of the nation’s largest. Bill Boice, the Atlanta-based Kilpatrick Townsend partner representing FotoMedia, said his client wouldn’t have any comment on the litigation beyond the press release it has already published.
In that statement, FotoMedia CEO Ryan Fry makes it clear that any social network that allows users to “upload, share and tag digital media” will have to fight their way through the patents that FotoMedia has acquired from various sources.
FotoMedia continues to move patents through the U.S. Patent Office — one patent in this lawsuit was issued in January 2011. And FotoMedia’s statement makes clear its outsize ambitions—the company says its technology “now extend far beyond traditional photo-sharing and is relevant to all ‘connected’ consumer devices capable of accessing, exchanging, and sharing digital media, as well as related software applications and cloud-based services that enable these devices.”
- FotoMedia Technologies LLC v. Facebook et al. [PDF]