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On March 15, Cloudflare was sued by a patent troll called Sable Networks — a company that doesn’t appear to have operated a real business in nearly ten years — relying on patents that don’t come close to the nature of our business or the services we provide. This is the second time we’ve faced a patent troll lawsuit.
As readers of the blog (or followers of tech press such as ZDNet and TechCrunch) will remember, back in 2017 Cloudflare responded aggressively to our first encounter with a patent troll, Blackbird Technologies, making clear we wouldn’t simply go along and agree to a nuisance settlement as part of what we considered an unfair, unjust, and inefficient system that throttled innovation and threatened emerging companies. If you don’t want to read all of our previous blog posts on the issue, you can watch the scathing criticisms of patent trolling provided by John Oliver or the writers of Silicon Valley.
We committed to fighting back against patent trolls in a way that would turn the normal incentive structure on its head. In addition to defending the case aggressively in the courts, we also founded Project Jengo — a crowdsourced effort to find evidence of prior art to invalidate all of Blackbird’s patents, not only the one asserted against Cloudflare. It was a great success — we won the lawsuit, invalidated one of the patent troll’s other patents, and published prior art on 31 of Blackbird’s patents that anyone could use to challenge those patents or to make it easier to defend against overbroad assertion of those patents. And most importantly, Blackbird Technologies went from being one of the most prolific patent trolls in the United States to shrinking its staff and filing many fewer cases.
We’re going to do it again. And we need your help.
Turning the Tables — A $100,000 Bounty for Prior Art
Sable Networks and its lawsuit fit neatly within the same troubling trends we were trying to address the first time we launched Project Jengo. Sable is taking ancient, 20-year-old patents and trying to stretch those patents lightyears beyond what they were meant to cover. It has already sued over a dozen technology companies targeting a wide range of different products and services, and by extending its claims to a company like Cloudflare suggests it may next try to stretch its claims to people that merely use routers … namely, anyone that uses the Internet.
We think Sable’s choice to bring these lawsuits on such a tenuous basis should come with some risk related to the underlying merits of its patents and its arguments, so we are sponsoring another prior-art contest seeking submissions to identify prior art for all of Sable’s active patents. We are seeking the help of the Cloudflare community to identify prior art — i.e., evidence that the patented technology was already in use or known before the patent application was filed — that can be used to invalidate Sable’s patents. And we will make it worth your while, by offering $100,000 to be shared by the winners who are successful in finding such prior art.
Again this time, we are committing $100,000 to be split among entrants who provide what we determine to be the most useful prior-art references that can be used in challenging the validity of Sable’s patents. You can submit prior-art references as long as Sable’s case is pending against us (Sable Networks, Inc. v. Cloudflare, Inc., No. 6:21-cv-00261-ADA (W.D. Tex.)), which means until Sable drops the case fully (and with prejudice — meaning Sable can’t re-file later), there’s a settlement, or the case has been resolved by the court and all appeal rights are exhausted.