The school's clinic is run like a law office and offers free counsel based both on need and on the interestingness of the cases for law students.
When they were approached by a small NYC startup that was being sued by a patent troll called 911 Notify, LLC, who had a ridiculous patent on "notifications" (basically, if someone calls 911, look up their emergency contact info and call that number) that wanted $250,000 to settle, they went to work.
By putting the troll on notice that there was an unlimited amount of free legal hours from third-year law students available to the defendant -- students who got more out of the experience if they got to work on a full-blown trial that could invalidate the dumb-ass patent -- they terrified the troll into dropping the suit and running away.
I think there are other ways of recreating this dynamic (though this is a great way, because it gets law students really valuable experience that they would otherwise have to get after graduation while interning, provides a community service, and makes the world a better place), without relying on an infinite supply of third-year law students, like The Magnificent Seven Business Model.
Free legal support drastically changes a patent troll’s calculus. They win by offering to settle cases for less than the cost of the legal defense. It’s much cheaper for defendants to pay a troll $50,000 to settle a lawsuit than to pay lawyers $200,000 to win it. However, when a law school clinic is involved, the cost of legal defense drops to zero, and defendants have no incentive to pay trolls anything at all. With a free legal and a winning defense, who wouldn’t fight all the way to trial?
The clinic was also lucky. The Supreme Court issued 6 patent helpful patent decisions while our case was pending. In particular, Alice v. CLS Bank invalidated patents on taking mundane tasks and doing them on a computer. The patent in our case was basically for sending notification calls from a computer. Probably invalid under Alice. A second Supreme Court case, Octane v. Icon encouraged judges to impose “fee shifting” penalties in appropriate patent cases. Patent trolls are taking note. Ours seemed to get flustered whenever I mentioned these new cases.
Law Students Fend Off a Patent Troll. [Eric Adler/Medium]