Monster Cables: Cease and desist

You frequently hear hand-wringing about how the gentle art of writing letters is dead. Not so, my friends, not so; this is one of the finest missives it has ever been my privilege to read.


After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1985, I spent nineteen years in litigation practice, with a focus upon federal litigation involving large damages and complex issues. My first seven years were spent primarily on the defense side, where I developed an intense frustration with insurance carriers who would settle meritless claims for nuisance value when the better long-term view would have been to fight against vexatious litigation as a matter of principle. In plaintiffs' practice, likewise, I was always a strong advocate of standing upon principle and taking cases all the way to judgment, even when substantial offers of settlement were on the table. I am "uncompromising" in the most literal sense of the word. If Monster Cable proceeds with litigation against me I will pursue the same merits-driven approach; I do not compromise with bullies and I would rather spend fifty thousand dollars on defense than give you a dollar of unmerited settlement funds. As for signing a licensing agreement for intellectual property which I have not infringed: that will not happen, under any circumstances, whether it makes economic sense or not.

I say this because my observation has been that Monster Cable typically operates in a hit-and-run fashion. Your client threatens litigation, expecting the victim to panic and plead for mercy; and what follows is a quickie negotiation session that ends with payment and a licensing agreement. Your client then uses this collection of licensing agreements to convince others under similar threat to accede to its demands. Let me be clear about this: there are only two ways for you to get anything out of me. You will either need to (1) convince me that I have infringed, or (2) obtain a final judgment to that effect from a court of competent jurisdiction. It may be that my inability to see the pragmatic value of settling frivolous claims is a deep character flaw, and I am sure a few of the insurance carriers for whom I have done work have seen it that way; but it is how I have done business for the last quarter-century and you are not going to change my mind. If you sue me, the case will go to judgment, and I will hold the court's attention upon the merits of your claims--or, to speak more precisely, the absence of merit from your claims--from start to finish. Not only am I unintimidated by litigation; I sometimes rather miss it.

I will also point out to you that if you do choose to undertake litigation, your "upside" is tremendously limited. If you somehow managed, despite the formidable obstacles in your way, to obtain a finding of infringement, and if you were successful at recovering a large licensing fee--say, ten cents per connector--as the measure of damages, your recovery to date would not reach four figures. On the downside, I will advance defenses which, if successful, will substantially undermine your future efforts to use these patents and marks to threaten others with these types of actions; as you are of course aware, it is easier today for your competitors to use collateral estoppel offensively than it ever has been before. Also, there is little doubt that making baseless claims of trade dress infringement and design patent infringement is an improper business tactic, which can give rise to unfair competition claims, and for a company of Monster's size, potential antitrust violations with treble damages and attorneys' fees.

I look forward to receiving the information requested and will review it promptly as soon as it is received.



That's just the highlight reel--the rest is just as good, so please read the whole thing.

I'm a pretty strong supporter of intellectual property rights, but it's fairly clear that there's something deeply, deeply wrong at the patent office. Too many garbage patents are being approved in all sorts of fields, and they're too often used as a weapon by large companies against smaller competitors who may not have the capital to bankroll a lawsuit.

Yes, yes, I know: it's our old friend Regulatory Capture carrying a gavel and a slide rule. But unfortunately we have to have patents in order to have inventions, and even more unfortunately, intellectual property is stunningly important to our country's future. Most unfortunately, almost no one cares enough for this to ever become an electoral issue.