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"Dear Piece of S---," began a response from Life360 CEO Chris Hulls to a demand letter from a company that wanted him to license their technology. (You can guess what three letters the dashes are subbing for.)
That letter was introduced by AGIS in a jury trial against Life360 for infringing on patents related to calling people who appeared on a map. It turned out, reported Ars Technica, that Hulls' testy language may have helped him secure a verdict of noninfringement.
Not Quite a Troll, But Not Quite Not a Troll
Life360 makes a smart phone application that allows users to see where their friends are on a map, then communicate with them through text messages or phone calls. AGIS claimed that this infringed on its patent from 2004, which allows a mobile device to get location information on other people and then call those people.
Rather than settle out of court, which is what most small companies do when staring down the barrel of patent litigation, Life360 put $50 million in new venture capital funding to work and litigated the suit.
AGIS, unlike most patent trolls, who do little more than license intellectual property and sue for royalties or settlements, actually sells the invention it patented. Its application, called LifeRing, is designed to allow military personnel and first responders to know where colleagues are, even if radio and cell phone communications are knocked out.
The Jury Sympathizes
At trial, Hulls addressed the "Dear Piece of S---" letter the best way anyone could: head on. "This letter that he sent me said I have three days to shut down my business or write the check," he told the jury. "I had just proposed to my wife, I was planning a wedding. I was actually, wow, I can afford a house now because I have a salary. And then I have a lawyer coming from a company I never heard of said write me a check or shut down in three days. So I was very angry."
The jury apparently agreed, finding Life360 didn't infringe on the patent. One juror was very sympathetic to Hulls' position: "Anyone who got a letter like that -- three days, or shut down -- of course, you're going to be pissed," said Sheri Coombs.
The jury didn't find that AGIS' patents were invalid, but according to VentureBeat, Hulls is thinking of launching a campaign to raise money to invalidate the patents. Indeed, Life360 set up a website called "Stop AGIS, Inc." to allow other companies that might be sued in the future to access the research it has conducted on prior art that would tend to invalidate the patentability of AGIS' invention.