New Hampshire's Supreme Court has ruled that calling someone a "patent troll" is not defamatory because "patent troll" is a statement of opinion and can neither be factually proved nor disproved.
The case was brought by Automated Transactions Limited, who claims a broad patent on machines that dispense cash (ATL founder David Barcelou invented some unsuccessful gaming machines in the 1990s and received several patents they say cover the normal operations of ATMs and other common machines). ATL has made millions demanding patent license fees.
Bob Stier, a lawyer who represented some of ATL's targets, was quoted in a 2013 interview in which he called ATL a "patent troll" and repeated the characterization on his firm's website. The Credit Union National Association also called ATL a "patent troll" in presentations they gave about demand letters served to their members.
This prompted ATL to file suit against Stier, CUNA, the ABA and others in 2016, claiming that the terms "troll," "shakedown" and "extortion" were all defamatory. The case made it to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, who dismissed ATL's case and said that ""The challenged statement, that ATL is a well-known patent troll, is one of opinion rather than fact. The statement is an assertion that, among other things, ATL is a patent troll because its patent-enforcement activity is 'aggressive.' This statement cannot be objectively verified."
Officially, the ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court only applies in New Hampshire. But state courts do pay attention to rulings in other states. If trolls sue for defamation in other states, the defendants will be able to cite the New Hampshire precedent in their defense, making it more likely that they'll ultimately prevail.
They called you a troll, deal with it—court slaps down libel lawsuit [Timothy B Lee/Ars Technica]