I was lucky enough to catch Kurt Denke for a short interview. Kurt is actually on vacation right now; however, he still found some time to answer my questions.
For those who have been living under a rock for the last week, Kurt Denke is the owner of Blue Jeans Cable; Monster Cable attacked Blue Jeans Cable on the basis of "Intellectual Property violations". You should read Kurd Denke's response. It's a very enjoyable read, which makes you realise just how knowledgeable Kurt Denke is, on intellectual property law and on cables (!).
Here is the interview:
TM: I think everybody read your letter to Monster Cable. The short story is: you were harassed about paying patent licensing fees, and--as an ex lawyer and business owner, wrote the only possible response. Did you expect to receive such a letter?
KD: No, I had no idea such a letter would be coming; it was out of the blue. However, Monster is so well-known for bringing frivolous intellectual property claims that I have long thought that it was likely something like this might happen someday.
TM: A part of your letter showed your deep understanding of what you sell. The part I enjoyed the most was:
[...]the connector end is constrained by the standard dimensions of the RCA socket, and by the need, as the socket provides for no bayonet or screw attachment, to provide sufficient tension on insertion to maintain good mechanical and electrical contact; the barrel, grasped by the user for the purpose of insertion and removal, requires traction which is typically provided by raised or recessed rings, plastic inserts, knurling, or the like; and transition between the connector and the cable to which it is attached requires, in one form or another, a reduction in barrel size at the connector rear [...]
TM: Now... I feel that you were incredibly lucky, because you have more knowledge than most people about IP laws -- plus, a tremendous understanding of your products. But, this worries me, because this is not common. Computer programmers often know a lot about programming, but very little about IP laws. The same can probably be said for other industries. How long -- and how much money -- do you think it would have taken a person to come up with a letter like the one you wrote, if s/he had to do it paying up a lawyer? How long did it take you to write it?
KD: Well, it didn't take long to write it; a couple of hours, perhaps. But I did spend a long time working on the underlying research and consulting with IP attorneys who are old friends of mine, running drafts by them, making changes, that sort of thing. It's been a few years since I last did intellectual property litigation, so I had to refresh myself on fundamentals, and I also had to search for other applicable patents and marks.
If one were without legal education and needed to refer this to outside counsel, I would assume it would have cost a few thousand dollars to have the letter written. There are other obstacles as well; I know excellent IP lawyers I can phone for advice; that's a lot better than having to scan the yellow pages and hope you get a competent practitioner who has time and the inclination to help.
TM: In the letter, you write:
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.
TM: Many people who run a business often have to deal with "other powers" within their company (shareholders, partners) which make such a decision impossible. What motivates you? How important do you think it is to have this power?
KD: I have always thought it was important to respond aggressively to frivolous claims, and I think that it is a fallacy to think that, because doing so is costly, it is a waste of money. If you allow yourself to be bullied, you'll be bullied time and again, and that is, in the long run, costlier.
I view Monster in this situation the way most people view aggressive panhandlers. Why would you give anything to someone who will only be back for more over and over again?
I do not have shareholders to please. If I did, I'd try to explain that to them; but it certainly could limit freedom of action.
TM: Do you realise that your letter will serve as inspiration to other companies? Is this what you had in mind when you wrote it?
KD: I am actually rather surprised at the depth and intensity of the reaction. I did not have it in mind to inspire other people, but if it has that effect, that's great.
Mostly, the reason the letter is the way it is is--well, because that's how I am and that's how I write. I have never suffered fools gladly when it comes to frivolous litigation. Now, if investigation had shown that Monster's claim had merit, or even a reasonable probability of merit, the letter would have been quite different; but when you are right, there is no point in not saying so.
TM: Do you dream about actually going forward with the court case, and eventually demolish any patent claims by Monster Cable? What it you do, but it costs your business most of its assets? The heritage left to other businesses in the industry would be immense, but at your expense...
KD: Well, no. I am rational enough to know that I don't want to go to litigation; yes, I'd love to get a decision that was sharply adverse to Monster Cable, and that would put a nice exclamation point on it. But frankly, I'd rather the panhandler go pick on someone else, as I do have customers to serve.
Litigation of this claim would not ruin our company; I'm very familiar with the costs and burdens of litigation and cannot imagine that happening.
TM: Thank you, and enjoy your holiday!