Trolls and tolls in Digital Signage patents.

Caveat Emptor

Patent infringement is common in digital signage as suppliers struggle for critical mass and unaware end users seek pricing advantages. Patent compliance is typically not part of sourcing criteria, though it does rear its head as installations become larger.

A patent troll (defines Wikipedia), “in pejorative usage, a patent troll is a person or company that attempts to enforce patent rights against accused infringers far beyond the patent’s actual value or contribution to the prior art. Patent trolls often do not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question”.

Interestingly, the top result from a Goggle search under the words “patent troll” is an ad for patent troll insurance “for less than $100 per month”. That would be $100 per month for each media player software license by the way.

Trolls do not want to sell anything involving the patent they are awarded. They simply want to monetize their investment in filing with usage licensing fees. Trolls charge tolls. Like the children’s storybook character of a troll beneath the bridge, the troll bullies or extorts a fee for the use of a bridge. As digital signage is a bridge to greater communications productivity, the patent troll wants its toll. Travellers pay up or take the long or treacherous alternative route.

There are about 50 key patents in digital signage application and thousands of others related to the technology elements (i.e. flat panels, media players, etc.).

Worst case scenarios include receiving a cease-and-desist letter, time/expense related to assessment and defense, unexpected fees, or inability to apply the technology as invested and planned.

In short, an end user must assure that patent compliance is not an exposure during vendor sourcing.

Vendors must take actions, as many primary providers, in particular of Content Management Software, already have to negate risks or future fees that they or their end user clients might endure.

Patent trolls are acknowledged as a challenge to commerce where intellectual property rights are a reward for research investment leading to unique insights and practices. Where trolls and tolls are synonymous in the intellectual property rights regime, sustainable providers are those defined as having the legal right to conduct commerce.

In July 2016, Stratacache announced its acquisition of the outdoor digital board product line and related intellectual property from Civiq Smartscapes. This positions Stratacache to serve the drive-thru requirements of quick-serve restaurants, coffee and pastry locations, banks and others in outdoor commerce with patented digital promotion, menu, transactional order confirmation displays.

The digital signage technology ecosystem of hardware and software has proven its value in improving the productivity of places, processes and people. A foundation of end users, and providers enjoying this benefit on a sustainable basis is that patents for the application of these technologies is owned or licensed. Caveat emptor – “Let the buyer beware,” and providers as well.

Other reading on patents as follows:

A bipartisan consensus to address the issue is building in Washington By Steven Titch, Computerworld. Feb. 10, 2015. White Castle food services and digital menu boards referenced.

BroadSign challenges digital signage “patent trolls”, a guest post by Burr Smith on July 26, 2016

Trolls May Have Seven More Digital Signage Patents Coming (or More), post by Dave Haynes on October 25, 2013 reflecting conference commentary.
http://www.sixteen-nine.net/2013/10/25/advice-digital-signage-patent-trolls/

On-vehicle digital signage is on the move. Sept 2014 by Lyle Bunn. It bears noting that the Madonia Family Limited Partnership, which was awarded patent for Integrated Flat Panel Display for Mounting to Exterior Surfaces of Motor Vehicles. US Patent Number 7,478,492 B2 Issued January 20, 2009 is seeking to license this patent to a supply or impacted end user.

Lyle Bunn is a highly regarded analyst, advisor and educator in North America’s Digital Signage industry. Lyle@LyleBunn.com

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