If, as the saying goes, a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, what can be said about a layman who represents himself in prosecuting a number of lawsuits against alleged infringers of his patent?
Samy Gharb is the inventor of a “Security System With A Mobile Telephone.” Through the services of a respectable IP law firm (Burns, Doane, Swecker & Mathis, LLP), he secured a patent on his invention, which issued in April 2003. So far, so good.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Gharb became convinced that his patent was being infringed – by virtually everyone. By early 2005, he was contacting IP firms and organizations, seeking assistance in enforcing his patent on a contingency-fee basis. Still good.
Unfortunately, none of the firms or organizations he contacted was willing to undertake such enforcement. There appears to be good reason for this lack of interest on the part of the IP professional community. It seems that the patent expired back in 2006, when Mr. Gharb failed to pay the maintenance fee.
Apparently undaunted by this little detail, Mr. Gharb has commenced several lawsuits pro se. Yes indeed, folks, Mr. Gharb is representing himself in federal district court in lawsuits alleging patent infringement by, among others, NASA, The U.S. Department Of Commerce, The U.S. Department Of Homeland Security, Cisco, Rockwell Automation and Mitsubishi Electric.
In the suit against Rockwell in the Northern District Of Illinois (that means Chicago), he filed a 90 (yes, 90) page complaint. In this tome, Mr. Gharb sets forth “a polite request” that the General Manager of Rockwell Automation be required to pay “compensation of 1,000,000,000 US$” (yes, ONE BILLION DOLLARS) in respect of infringement occurring in the period of 2000 through 2010.
This damages request, although it is polite, presents several problems. Firstly, as noted above, the patent-in-suit did not issue until 2003. Thus, no patent infringement could have occurred before that time. Secondly, also as noted above, the patent EXPIRED in October 2006 for failure to pay the maintenance fee.
As if that wasn’t enough, the patent statute (for the benefit of our anal-retentive readers, it’s 35 USC §286) limits damages to those occurring within the six years preceding the filing of suit. Thus, even assuming the patent really was infringed – a BIG assumption – Mr. Gharb is only entitled to damages accruing in the period from January 2005 through April 2007. This may be at least part of the reason no contingency-fee firm jumped at the chance to take the case.
Chicago is known as “the city of broad shoulders” and we applaud the willingness of the courts to give a workingman an opportunity to press his claim. Nevertheless, polite or not, there should be limits on what they will entertain. Whatever those limits may be, this case certainly is not within them.
THE LESSON TO BE LEARNED: If no one is willing to take your case on a contingency-fee basis, the case probably lacks merit.