Automated Transactions LLC (“ATL”), a small patent assertion entity, has collected millions enforcing a portfolio of patents relating to automated teller machines. After being labeled a “patent troll” by a number of critics of ATL’s enforcement practices, ATL filed a defamation suit in New Hampshire state court against 12 individuals and trade groups claiming that the cognomen was libelous. Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of the suit finding the term “patent troll” to be a non-actionable opinion and rhetorical hyperbole.
This case stems from the patents of inventor David Barcelou, who claims to have come up with the idea of connecting ATMs to the internet. In 1994, Barcelou created a prototype of an automated gaming machine, which included ATM-like features such as the ability to immediately dispense cash to winners. Barcelou filed patent applications and was ultimately granted an ATM-related patent by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2005 and several other patents in the following years.
Barcelou’s efforts to commercialize his invention were largely unsuccessful and his “Automated Tournament Machine” never caught on. Barcelou later formed ATL, made ATL the exclusive licensor of the patent, and began licensing the patent and bringing infringement litigation. ATL filed infringement suits against numerous banks and credit unions allegedly using Barcelou’s patent in their ATMs. Additionally, nearly 200 different companies paid ATL roughly $3 million in licensing fees to avoid litigation.
ATL’s targets and several trade groups began vocalizing their criticism of ATL and Barcelou. One of the defendants in the slander lawsuit, an attorney who represented a number of the financial institutions targeted by ATL, said in an interview with the Boston Business Journal that ATL’s practices were “nothing more than a shakedown” and referred to ATL as a “patent troll” on his website. Another defendant, the Credit Union National Association, gave a presentation which contained a cartoon picture of a troll and referred to ATL as “a well-known patent troll.” A third defendant, the American Bankers Association, gave testimony before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary in which it referred to ATL as a “patent troll” that resorts to “extortive” practices “in an effort to extort payments” from financial institutions. Continue reading ›