One of the most useful tools in understanding the abuse of DMCA takedown letters is the site ChillingEffects.org. Now, the EFF, along with some other organizations focused on the excesses of patent trolling, have launched Trolling Effects to create a database of patent troll threats. As we’ve discussed in the past, one of the more nefarious aspects of patent trolling is that we really have no idea how widespread the practice is, because so many companies who receive threat letters from trolls quickly do the math and realize it’s cheaper to just pay up to get the troll to go away than to fight it in court — even if the recipient of a threat letter is absolutely positive they don’t infringe. That’s what the trolls rely on. Even if they have no argument, they know it’s expensive to fight back. Most of the time, no one outside of the troll and the recipient even knows about these letters and threats. There’s been no way to see how widespread this activity is. So even if we now know that the majority of patent lawsuits involve trolling behavior, the real problem is significantly worse because of all of the hidden transactions via bogus threat letters.
The Trolling Effects site is designed to (hopefully) provide some more transparency on this issue, by getting recipients of threat letters to publish them in a searchable database. Not only will this provide a lot more information for public study, but it will also help recipients of these letters know that they’re not alone. All too often, the trolls “win” a settlement because the recipients don’t even know how to go about fighting back. But if recipients can see that the troll sent similar letters to dozens or even hundreds of others, they can more easily band together to create an effective defense. Kudos to everyone behind this project. I’m excited to see what comes out of it.