American businesses have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of dealing with the economic fallout while implementing new health and safety protocols, they are being targeted by non-practicing entities (NPEs), also known as patent trolls, who hope to make a quick buck with litigation settlement shakedowns.
When businesses are hit with these lawsuits, resources that could be going to critical expenses, such as payroll and rent, are instead diverted to paying exorbitant legal costs. This predatory behavior isn’t new, but it's escalated during the crisis with more and more NPEs wielding bad patents against essential businesses and jeopardizing their ability to recover. Read more about the need to #StopBadPatents and #ProtectMainStreet. See here about ways to protect critical programs that review low quality patents. 

Case Studies

Delivery services the target of NPE suits: IP-Edge affiliated NPE Gridley IP continues to target delivery services that millions of Americans relied upon throughout the pandemic. The NPE sued Austin-based on-demand delivery company NeighborFavor on its  “Favor Delivery App” system, arguing its features related to mapping population activities of its runners infringes on its two patents. Gridley IP also sued two food delivery companies, Instacart and Doordash, over features related to tracking and gathering the location of riders and drivers through the defendants’ respective ridesharing services and apps.

Hotel industry sued by NPE over remote technology: NPE Evolve Interactive sued several multinational hospitality companies on a patent for streaming audio/visual data from a remote server to a networked device. The NPE sued Inter-Continental, Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood, adding strain on an industry already reeling from the economic devastation brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

American retailer Target sued by NPE over store app technology: NPE Dyfan is pursuing Target over a patent related to sending targeted messages to customers based on their location, using its mobile app to display deals on customers’ phones while in stores. Dyfan previously sued Target in 2019 on related patents, but the litigation was dismissed in January 2021. While COVID has driven plenty of business online, Target’s focus on customer safety and ease of shopping while in stores has helped the retailer remain profitable during the pandemic.

Restaurants targeted for online mobile ordering​: NPE Tiare Technology sued the restaurants Five Guys, Chick-fil-A and Raising Cane's in April 2021 on patents related to online mobile ordering. The restaurant industry was devastated throughout the pandemic, with more than 110,000 eating and drinking places closing and millions of job losses. Online mobile ordering was a key factor in helping restaurants stay afloat.

Staples and ASICS sued by NPEs over website feature: In February 2021, athletic apparel company ASICS was sued by NPE Lexos Media over a custom cursor on its website that helped to magnify product images. This lawsuit has fueled litigation against 25 other retailers, targeting a website feature that has made it easier for customers to shop safely online throughout the pandemic. For example, in a lawsuit copied in part from Lexos Media’s suit against ASICS, NPE Browse3D sued office supplies retailer Staples over the way it presented recommended items for purchase on its site. Lexos later sued furniture manufacturer La-Z-Boy for cursor customization.

NPE Gravel Rating Systems sues Costco, Lowe's, and Target: Gravel Rating Systems kicked off a litigation campaign over a “knowledge filter” patent, suing several American retailers including Costco, Lowe’s and Target. The defendants are being targeted for posting user reviews for products listed for sale on their websites. As consumers shifted to more one-stop and bulk shopping during lockdowns, big box retail stores played a key part in providing essentials for those not venturing out to shop as often as before. This included providing customers with more product reviews and helping them to easily compare products online.

Accessories companies sued by NPEs over virtual try-on technology: American jewelry company Kendra Scott was sued by NPE Lennon Image Technologies over their Kendra Scott Try-on Tool, an augmented reality tool that helps customers “try on” products virtually prior to purchase. Eyewear company Warby Parker was sued for using a similar technology, a service offered to create a safer shopping experience during the pandemic.

Foot Locker becomes defendant #226 sued by NPE Symbology Innovations: On Christmas Eve, Foot Locker, headquartered in New York, became the latest defendant in Symbology Innovations’ QR code technology patent litigation campaign. Sporting goods stores have faced significant challenges during the pandemic, with major changes in consumer demand spiking digital sales as many gyms and outdoor activities remain closed. The litigation campaign now includes 226 defendants, as the company has targeted a broad spectrum of retailers, manufacturers, insurance and financial services companies.

NPE sues over 100 companies in the Western District of Texas: Cedar Lane Technologies alleges that a group of hotels have infringed on a patent related to data retrieval and display by using features for reserving travel services through interactive digital maps on their websites. The NPE has targeted over 100 companies, including Choice Hotels International, Hilton, Extended Stay America, Marriott, Best Western, Hyatt, Radisson and Drury Hotels. This attack puts added strain on an industry already hit hard by the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employee-owned Iowa supermarket sued by NPE over QR codes: In April, Hy-Vee was sued by an NPE over a patent for Quick Response (QR) codes used on their promotional materials. While trying to steer local communities through the pandemic by providing safe access to groceries, the company was forced to contend with specious and resource-draining patent litigation. Over the last three years, the same NPE has targeted over 100 companies over their patents. Read more here.

American grocery chain sued by NPE over server patents: Albertsons was sued by an NPE in July over three server patents offering a mobile app for customers. The mobile app was meant to allow customers to order delivery or schedule curbside pickup during a time when many sought contactless grocery shopping to avoid any chance of exposure. Learn more about this distracting lawsuit here.

NPE GreatGigz launched a litigation campaign against website job search services: During the pandemic, GreatGigz has targeted website job search services, important platforms for professionals that have only increased in popularity as a result of  record unemployment during the pandemic. So far, GreatGigz has sued LinkedIn, Angie's List, GrubHub, IAC, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Freelancer Limited, and DoorDash. It is unnecessarily harmful to target food and grocery delivery services during a deathly pandemic, as well as employment services during an economic freefall, and much less both at once. Read more here.

NPE Symbology Innovations has sued over 200 companies: Patent predator Symbology Innovations has frivolously sued hundreds of companies over patents across sectors including, but certainly not limited to, retail, restaurants and banks. Many of these sectors were hit especially hard by COVID-19, making them all the more vulnerable to an NPE’s financially motivated targeting. Learn more here

Digi Portal sues Hyatt and Marriott despite suffering hotel industry: The hotel industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, NPE Digi Portal is pursuing hotel companies like Hyatt and Marriott through frivolous litigation, such as advertising patents, at a time when they are struggling to stay above water financially and create safe travel environments during a global health crisis.

NPE GreatGigz continued its litigation campaign, targeting Texas grocery store HEB: Pursuing yet another website job search service during an economic crisis, GreatGigz has sued HEB. A hometown favorite, HEB was founded in 1905 in Kerrville, Texas, and has embraced its strong Texan identity ever since. With more than 340 stores throughout Texas, HEB has over 100,000 employees. As if this suit wasn’t enough, GreatGigz also sued Austin-based food delivery company NeighborFavor Inc dba Favor Delivery, which HEB acquired in 2015. This on-demand delivery company, offering anything delivered in under an hour, is primed to serve as a safe option during a health pandemic, that is, if NPEs keep their distance.

Hawk Technology sues Castle Retail over mobile app: Castle Retail, the operating company of Cash Saver grocery stores in Tennessee who received a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program earlier this year, was sued by Hawk Technology for using a mobile app to monitor video surveillance. Cash Saver utilizes a "source-to-shelf" pricing model that allows it to offer customers low prices on every item in the store and opens grocery stores in food deserts, which is particularly commendable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, Rick James, the CEO of Castle Retail Group and chairman of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Stores Associations, has been purchasing grocery stores that are closing during the pandemic to ensure they remain open and able to serve communities. 

NPE Hawk Technology sues City of Mobile, Alabama: Hawk Technology sued the city of Mobile and Ladd Peebles Stadium, a 70-year-old municipal-run stadium and home to the University of South Alabama football team, alleging that they infringed on their video surveillance patent by using an Eagle Eye surveillance system. This is the latest example of how COVID-19, coupled with predatory NPEs, has brought financial harm to small towns.

IP Edge affiliated NPE sued 7 retailers on the last day of 2020: On New Year’s Eve, in the Western District of Texas, Hitel Technologies, an affiliate of patent monetization company IP Edge, sued J. Crew, Elie Tahari, Urban Outfitters, GAP, Big Lots,  Men’s Wearhouse and Hot Topic over a patent related to product browsing by keyword searching. Earlier last year, Hitel sued other retailers like Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Levi Strauss and Nike over the same patent.

NPE Geographic Location Innovations sued Estee Lauder in Texas: The Rothschild subsidiary sued Estee Lauder, accusing the American beauty care company of infringement through location services offered on its website. It’s not surprising that COVID-19 has led to increased demand for buy-online and pick-up-in-store services to limit the amount of time spent indoors. There are 112 other defendants associated with this litigation campaign, targeting a wide range of industries and often exploited in a file-and-settle fashion. Learn more here.

Digi Portal strikes again, sues Aveda, NAPA and Carmax: Relentless NPE Digi Portal, who previous sued several hotel chains in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, has sued Aveda Corporation, headquartered in Blaine, MN, as well as NAPA, headquartered in Atlanta, GA, and Carmax, headquartered in Richmond, VA. The suit alleges these companies infringed on five patents generally related to delivering customized webpages to Internet users, pushing the total number of defendants in the campaign to 29.

NPE NorthStar Systems sues Target, Walmart and other major retailers: At the end of 2020, some of America’s largest retailers, including Walmart, Target, Lululemon, Kohl’s, and H&M, were sued by NorthStar Systems over three patents related to a system for tracking in-store inventory of physical assets equipped with communications devices. As online sales surge and replace in-person shopping during the pandemic, retailers are depending on tools that efficiently manage their inventory in order to survive. 

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