My name is Kate Endress, and I cofounded DITTO.com along with Sergey Surkov and Dmitry Kornilov. We wanted to answer the biggest question people have when shopping online: Does it fit?
We decided to start with eyewear, because we had each had bad experiences buying glasses in stores and felt like we could create the ultimate online shopping experience for eyewear complete with a selection of the best designer brands in the world, cool try-on technology that let you see how they fit on your unique face, and phenomenal customer service including free shipping, free returns and a 2-year warranty. Our team consists of 12 dedicated individuals who have worked countless hours and poured their hearts and souls into creating our website: www.ditto.com.
But recently, two separate “patent trolls” have sued us for patent infringement, and the enormous cost of defending ourselves in court is threatening to put us out of business. (Patent trolls are groups who buy patents to sue others who have independently developed inventions.) As opposed to reinvesting capital in growing our business and hiring people, we have to spend all of our money on these lawsuits. It’s devastating.
Additional Details about the Lawsuits:
The first case is a patent infringement complaint filed by Lennon Image Technologies (Case 2:13-cv-00236). Lennon is a non-practicing entity based in the Eastern District of Texas – the most plaintiff friendly county in the country. They are a classic patent troll because they don’t create anything themselves but instead exist solely to buy patents and use them offensively. Trolls knows it costs literally millions of dollars to defend a patent lawsuit, so they use the threat of litigation as a weapon to force companies into cutting them checks to go away. But unlike most of the large businesses, we simply can’t afford to do this!
The second case is a patent infringement complaint filed by a competitor who is using a recently purchased patent to seek an injunction on our 3D virtual try-on technology for eyewear. The lawsuit (Case No. 2:13-cv-00145) was filed in the District of Utah by 1-800-Contacts, whose division Glasses.com, directly competes with us for online sales of designer prescription glasses and sunglasses. 1-800-Contacts is a division of managed care giant, WellPoint (NYSE:WLP).
The upsetting part about this case is that Jonathan Coon, cofounder and CEO of 1-800-Contacts, used DITTO's virtual fitting technology soon after our launch in April 2012 and then afterwards, in May 2012, moved to acquire rights to a patent, which they are now using to sue us. While they are a practicing entity, the fact that they bought a patent to impose egregious litigation costs on us when we independently developed our technology makes them a “corporate troll” in our books. We don't think the patent they bought infringes but it will cost us a lot to prove that in courts.
We garnered the support from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights advocacy group based in San Francisco, which beats back bad litigation and champions the public interest in critical battles affecting digital rights. In a recent post, EFF accused 1-800-Contacts of “leveraging the massive expense of patent litigation to squelch the competition”. You can read their post here.
What We Need & What You Get
We are asking for your financial support to help cover the legal fees associated with these two lawsuits. If you donate $30 or more, you will get an awesome “I Beat Trolls” T-shirt, which you can wear with a smug smile knowing you helped save our business and raise awareness for some much needed patent reform!
Details on the T-shirts:
The T-shirts are American Apparel (read: super comfortable!), and we screen printed our "I Beat Trolls" design on the front. In the bottom left hand corner, it reads "SAVE DITTO.COM AND SUPPORT THE SHIELD ACT". We have both Mint and Raspberry colored T-shirts in Unisex sizes. We'll ship it to you for free if you live in the United States. If you are buying internationally, we'll contact you and let you know the cost of additional shipping.
Where exactly is the money is going?
I’m working hard to convince a talented team of IP attorneys and litigators to work on our case for reduced fees and/or equity in our business, but even despite this, we expect to have $30,000-$100,000 of out-of-pocket costs in the next 3-6 months alone. Costs include searching for prior art, filing fees, lawyer fees, and flights to Utah, where 1-800-Contacts is suing us. Bottom line is that 100% of the proceeds from the sale of these t-shirts will go towards our legal expenses (Girlscout’s honor!)
What else can you do?
We hope to raise awareness for much needed patent reform and would like you to support the SHIELD Act, which is a clever piece of legislation introduced by by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). The backronym stands for Saving High-Tech Innovators from Egregious Legal Disputes. Under the Act, if the patent troll loses in court (because the patent is found to be invalid or there is no infringement), then it pays the other side’s costs and legal fees, which often stretch into the millions of dollars. This "fee shifting" system would empower innovators to fight back, while discouraging trolls from threatening lawsuits to start.
In addition to sporting your new T-shirt, you can also send a message to your congressmen asking them to support this bill! Tweet, post, pin and blog to increase awareness of the SHIELD Act. It’s incredibly important for innovation!
Lastly, if you know a thing or two about patents and can do some research to help us find prior art, please check out our request here. If you end up finding prior art that we can use in court to help invalidate their patent, I will personally fly to your location on my own dime (if you're in the US) and buy you a beer!