The inspiring story of how Cloudflare defeated a patent troll and broke the patent-trolling business-model

In 2016, Cloudflare was targeted by a notorious patent troll called Blackbird Technologies; rather than capitulate, the company set up a fund called "Project Jengo" to pay bounties to researchers who documented prior art that could be used to invalidate the patent in question -- and all of Blackbird's patents, and began to file to have additional patents invalidated based on that crowdsourced research.

Not only did Cloudflare prevail in its litigation, it also seems to have taken a serious bite out of Blackbird, whose headcount has dropped precipitously, along with the number of lawsuits the company has filed. And to add insult to injury, the Cloudflare filed ethics complaints against the company's founder (who are both lawyers) with their individual bar associations.

I proposed a variation on this in 2013. It's great to see it in action now! Sic semper tyrannis!

As promised, Cloudflare distributed more than $50,000 in cash awards to eighteen people who submitted prior art as part of the crowdsourced effort. We gave out more than $25,000 to people in support of their submissions related to the ’335 patent asserted against Cloudflare. Additionally we awarded more than $30,000 to submitters in support of our efforts to invalidate the other patents in Blackbird’s portfolio.

In general, we awarded bounties based on whether we incorporated the art found by the community into our legal filings, the analysis of the art as provided in the submission, whether someone else had previously submitted the art, and the strength and number of claims the art challenged in the specified Blackbird patent.

We asked many of the recent bounty winners why they decided to submit prior art to Project Jengo and received some of the following responses:

"Over the years I've been disappointed and angered by a number of patent cases where I feel that the patent system has been abused by so-called ‘patent trolls’ in order to stifle innovation and profit from litigation. With Jengo in particular, I was a fan of what Cloudflare had done previously with Universal SSL. When the opportunity arose to potentially make a difference with a real patent troll case, I was happy to try and help."

— Adam, Security Engineer

"I read the ’335 patent and thought it basically described a fundamental design principle of the world wide web (proxy servers). I was pretty sure such software was in widespread use by the priority date of the patent (1998). At that point I was curious if that was true so I did some Googling."

– David, Software Developer

The Project Jengo Saga: How Cloudflare Stood up to a Patent Troll – and Won! [Alex Krivit/Cloudflare]

(Thanks, MildBill!)