Patent Troll Sues Businesses that Offer Wi-Fi; Individuals Safe for Now

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A patent troll who could potentially sue any Wi-Fi user is broadening its attack to include hotels, but is leaving individual users alone for now.

The firm, Chicago-based Innovatio IP Ventures, has already sued department stores, restaurants and coffee shop chains for offering Wi-Fi to their customers. The next wave of lawsuits targets individual branches of the largest hotel chains in the United States, including Marriott, Hyatt, Wyndham and Best Western, Patent Examiner reports.

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Instead of seeking expensive fees, Innovatio wants payouts of $2,300 to $5,000 per infringement. In other words, the company is hoping many of its targets will cough up small payments to avoid costly litigation. Matthew McAndrews, Innovatio’s lead lawyer from Chicago-based law firm Niro, Haller & Niro, called it a “systematic campaign” in an interview with Patent Examiner.

As crazy as suing businesses over free Wi-Fi sounds, the really scary part is that Innovatio could eventually target residential Wi-Fi users as well.

McAndrews didn’t give Patent Examiner a straight answer on that matter. He said Innovatio isn’t targeting American households for using Wi-Fi “at this stage” and the company doesn’t “perceive” that it will change its strategy of suing only businesses. But then McAndrews said Innovatio’s “plan is to license this portfolio to the fullest extent possible. That would include anyone who’s wireless networking.”

In all seriousness, I can’t imagine Innovatio ever going after individuals, partly because it’d be hard for the company to determine which private homes are using Wi-Fi, and partly because it would create hysteria. I’m more concerned about a possible shakedown of small businesses, such as local coffee shops and restaurants that offer Wi-Fi to their customers. Small businesses would be an ideal target for a firm like Innovatio, because they’re in no position to spend lots of money on litigation but can probably manage a small settlement.

Motorola Solutions and Cisco Systems are suing Innovatio in retaliation. Hopefully that’ll stop the madness and ensure that we can all enjoy Wi-Fi without fear of a lawsuit.

(MORE: Will App Developers Be Scared Away by Lawsuit Threats?)

[via Techdirt]