Does anyone at Mapbox understand the company’s patent filing activities?

By Steve Brachmann
August 17, 2017

Tom Lee of Mapbox at July 13th House IP Subcommittee hearing

At the July 13th hearing of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, Mapbox staffer Tom Lee had some rather explosive things to say about patents. “In general, the quality of software patents in our system seems to be very poor,” Lee testified to efficient infringer ally, patent troll and House IP subcommittee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). Further, Lee assured members of the House IP subcommittee that he knew software engineers who would consider it “an embarrassment” to be listed as an inventor on a patent.

But as we began pointing out in a follow-up to the July 13th House IP subcommittee hearing, there seems to be some serious questions as to how Tom Lee is even qualified to give his opinion to members of the House IP subcommittee. “Patent trolls look for sympathetic venues like the Eastern District of Texas to raise the cost of defense, limit choice of counsel, and make impractical several kinds of legal responses,” Lee’s testimony reads. But Mapbox itself has no true experience with the Eastern District of Texas; the one patent case filed against Mapbox was in the Western District of Texas.

“Every patent troll we have encountered has filed their claims in remote locations instead of where our business is located,” Lee’s testimony reads. While it’s true that Western Texas might be a remote district for Mapbox, Lee says “every patent troll” as if there’s more than one which Mapbox has faced. Truly, the testimony should have said “the only patent troll we have encountered.”

“At Mapbox, the desire to create better products drives innovation, not the prospect of patent protection. When we file patents, it is due to other considerations, including defensive ones,” Lee’s testimony reads. How come Lee can talk about Mapbox’s patent filing activities to Congress when he can’t do so on a public forum like Twitter? How can Lee be so knowledgeable of Mapbox’s defensive patent filing strategies if he can’t even discuss patent applications filings, material which is freely available to the public through searchable databases like FreePatentsOnline or Google Patents?

It doesn’t look like the confusion on Mapbox’s patent filing activities ends with Tom Lee, however. An e-mail chain we’ve obtained shows a discussion between Justin Cohen, the Thompson & Knight attorney who engaged Lee on Twitter, and two senior Mapbox officials: Leslie Nakajima, the head of global communications for Mapbox; and Sai Sriskandarajah, Mapbox’s VP of legal, who oversees all of Mapbox’s legal affairs worldwide. As the e-mail chain shows, Cohen took Lee’s advice to reach out to Mapbox’s communications department. Cohen asked for information on Mapbox’s patent grants and patent application filings, which should be publicly available information but appeared to be nonexistent to Cohen. “Can you explain why Mapbox is choosing not to disclose information about its patents and patent lawsuits? Which business reasons would be involved given that the information I’m asking about should be public?” Cohen asked Sriskandarajah in a July 20th e-mail; Cohen has received no reply to that e-mail. This follows an e-mail from Sriskandarajah from earlier that same day in which he said that “for business reasons we don’t disclose the information you’ve requested.” This matter was forwarded to Sriskandarajah on July 19th by Nakajima, who called Cohen “the same target coming after me that has been pinging Tom since his testimony.”

There could be a innocent reason why Mapbox doesn’t have any publicly disclosed patent application filings. It’s possible that the filings have been made within the past 18 months and have not yet been published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It’s also possible that they were filed with a non-publication request, so that the patent application wouldn’t be published until a patent grant is issued.

Still, given that Lee testified that Mapbox has been a party to multiple patent lawsuits and only a single lawsuit can be located, coupled with Lee’s testimony that Mapbox has used the patent system as an applicant and no patents or applications can be found, Congress should question whether or not false testimony has been given in this case. Perhaps there is a reasonable explanation, but based on publicly available information serious questions exist regarding the veracity of his testimony.

Further, Cohen went as far as to contact staffers with the House IP subcommittee to determine the criteria and process which goes into selecting panel witnesses for hearings on IP matters. “I first contacted Rep. Issa’s office, who referred me to the staffers on the House’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet,” Cohen said. “I spoke with a staffer named Joe Keeley, who did not provide many details. He merely stated that the chairman (Rep. Issa) makes the decision and the staffers looked for small businesses in the tech sector. I asked specifically how they decided on Tom Lee from Mapbox, but he did not provide any specifics. I’d like to ensure that Congress is relying on good, well-vetted information as they consider making additional adjustments to our patent system.”

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a writer located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He has become a regular contributor to IPWatchdog.com, writing about technology, innovation and is the primary author of the Companies We Follow series. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on IPWatchdog.com do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of IPWatchdog.com. Read more.

Discuss this

There are currently 4 Comments comments. Join the discussion.

  1. Valuationguy August 17, 2017 9:14 am

    Is Cohen naive of the political process in Congress? Committee witnesses are chosen based on their KNOWN positions by the Committee Chairs and staff. Typically ONE witness with an opposing view is chosen as a “balance” to the packing the witness box (i.e. multiple witnesses) with support for the Chairman’s or staff’s position.

    Somewhere there is a PERSONAL connection between Mapbox and the Committee (which encompasses staff or members) which resulted in Mapbox being chosen….but there is little chance of the office confirming this…unless one party does an obvious (and public) favor to the other which attracts attention (attention that neither party WANTS given the questions that it raises of unethical or illegal behavior).

  2. Bemused August 18, 2017 9:47 am

    Mr. Cohen is anything but naive. His outreach to Tom Lee and the other executives at Mapbox which outed them as full of s**t (about being the target of trolls and their purported patent filings) prove that.

    Kudos to Mr. Cohen for exposing in a very public manner this farce of Congressional hearings on IP matters. The next time that clown Issa has a town hall meeting where he touts his so-called crusade against patent trolls someone should bring this up.

  3. Rick Derris August 18, 2017 10:02 am

    I’m not surprised. Techbags are woefully ignorant of the patent process. I can’t count how many “disruptive startups” I’ve seen who boast about their “patent portfolio” when the portfolio consists of one file provisional that went abandoned three months prior.

    >>>
    Further, Lee assured members of the House IP subcommittee that he knew software engineers who would consider it “an embarrassment” to be listed as an inventor on a patent.
    >>>

    Then he should email Larry Page and tell him to file a statutory invention registration for the Page Rank patent.

    Techbags have such cognitive dissonance when it comes to IP:
    – they argue that anything including software shouldn’t be patentable
    – but THEIR technology is so disruptive and insane great that theirs should be patentable and they in fact have issued patent (read: filed provisional applications)

    Mike Judge is being too lenient in his ridicule of Silicon Valley.

  4. Eric Berend August 18, 2017 11:36 am

    @4, ‘Rick Derris’:

    Please review your advice; it appears to be outdated:

    https://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/s1101.html

    Yet another part of the U.S. patent system that was “fixed when it ‘aint broke” by the Abominable Inanity Act.

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