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STATES CHRONICLE – The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has just opened lawsuits against Microsoft and Amazon. Their allegations consist of patent infringement that the tribe had previously purchased from SRC Labs. The plaintiffs resorted to its sovereign immunity to make a case.
SRC Labs was created in 1996 as a way to continue the work of tech pioneer Seymour R. Cray who died that year. However, the organization doesn’t sell any physical products nowadays. Instead, its website promotes patent sales only. One of its customers was the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.
Afterward, both parties became co-plaintiffs in lawsuits against Microsoft and Amazon over patent infringement. These are the second and third actions against the two tech behemoths initiated by a collaboration between patent-holding firms and Native American tribes.
Patent-Holding Firms Are Partnering with Native American Tribes to Win Patent Infringement Lawsuits against Tech Companies
Patent-holding organizations earn their incomes by suing companies. This way, they became known in the tech world as ‘patent trolls.’ These groups started to work with Native American tribes to unlock some benefits. Native American communities are exempted from certain reviews at the US Patent Office. This right is called sovereign immunity.
The Microsoft lawsuit concerns six patent infringements while Amazon was sued for using two patents without holder’s permission. All licenses regard components of re-configurable processors and multi-processor computer systems. Even though they have different inventors, all eight of them were created initially within SRC Computers.
These legal fights are copying Allergan’s strategy. This is a drug company that transferred six patents to the same St. Regis tribe last month. All these licenses concern eye medication Restasis that is now worth $1.5 billion.
Tribes Are Entitled to Sovereign Immunity that Exempts Patents from Going through Inter Partes Reviews
The patents earned the sovereign immunity benefit through this move. Therefore, they can skip inter partes reviews that Patent Trial and Appeals Board is conducting before endorsing a new patent.
Allergan paid St. Regis $13.5 million up front. The tribe will receive additional $15 million each year that the patents remain valid. On top of that, they are also entitled to parts of the settlements and rewards resulting from lawsuits.
However, the new legal scheme isn’t working well so far. On Tuesday, a federal judge annulled the protection the St. Regis endowed to patents for Restasis, claiming obviousness. However, lawsuits against Amazon and Microsoft are still standing.
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