Boston firm labeled a ‘patent troll’ by some says it is actually performing a service


Wendy Verlander is either a righteous avenger for ripped off inventors, or the new face of an old menace, the patent troll.

Three years ago, Verlander left the world of big-firm law to start Blackbird Technologies, a Boston company that buys patents from inventors and then brings legal cases against other companies it claims are using its technologies without permission.

Blackbird isn’t a law firm, but it litigates like one, as Verlander and her colleagues are lawyers. The company essentially acts as its own client and bears the legal costs in-house, which allows it to pursue claims that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive for a solo inventor. One entrepreneur who transferred his patent to Blackbird and then received proceeds from a successful challenge called Verlander and her team “beautiful people who found a way to make some money for our hard work, sweat, and labor.”

But those on the receiving end of Blackbird’s efforts see the company as a dangerous new take on a business model they say has long preyed on the economy’s true innovators, peppering companies with flimsy legal claims in hopes some will choose to settle rather than fight.

One of Blackbird’s targets, a California Web services company called Cloudflare, is trying to rally others in the tech community by conducting an aggressive and highly public counterattack against Verlander’s firm. Cloudflare chief executive Matthew Prince said he would file ethics complaints against Verlander and her cofounder, alleging that legal ethics prevent them from owning the subject of their litigation.

Cloudflare has also offered $100,000 in rewards to people who find information to invalidate Blackbird’s patents.

“They have optimized a system where they can take what is a potentially extremely low-quality patent . . . impose a cost of more than a million dollars on another organization, and then collect a settlement of hundreds of thousands,” said Prince, whose company provides Internet performance and cybersecurity tools.

Verlander said Prince is “blowing smoke.” Her claim, she said, is serious, her ethical standing rock solid, and she expects to prove Cloudflare’s technology is infringing on a 15-year-old patent involving third-party information in communications between a Web server and user.

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