“After all I’ve been through, I just don’t want to have to shut this operation down because of this man who saw me on a reality TV show. At this point, I wish I’d never filed for this patent.” – Lori Cheek
In one more example of ways the U.S. patent system can be stacked against the small inventor, we have the story of Lori Cheek, who more than ten years ago had an idea for a unique dating service that she dubbed Cheekd. In 2008, still just prior to the age when people existed via smartphone, the patent she applied for covered a card-based dating system. Specifically, Patent No. 8543465—described by at least one patent attorney as “quite low quality; very difficult to infringe; and likely invalid under 101 (abstract idea)”—addressed:
A method, software product and card for personal online/offline meeting. The method includes the steps of an initiator developing a profile/account with a central organization; the central organization providing the initiator with a number of cards on which are printed at least a website designation and a code; the initiator giving a card to at least one recipient; the recipient going to the website designated on the card; the recipient entering the code at the designated website; the recipient being given access to the initiator’s profile with the central organization; and the recipient sending the initiator a message through the designated website.
Patent quality aside, at the time, it was a new approach to dating, born out of Cheek’s frustration with the impossibility of the New York dating scene. “After living in New York City for 16 years, I realized how impossible it was to meet people,” Cheek told IPWatchdog. “I found the fact that there are so many people and you still can’t find a date so crazy. But one night I had dinner with a friend, and he scribbled a note on the back of a business card and slipped it to this woman and got a date—I thought that was great; it was taking the business out of the business card.”
Cheek decided to leave her steady job as an architect to pursue the idea of a business centered around pre-printed dating cards featuring clever pick-up lines and held a brainstorming session with friends on February 22, 2008. On March 7, 2008, she registered the URL Youvebeencheekd.com (now cheekd.com) with GoDaddy, and officially founded her company, Cheekd, on April 20, 2009. She applied for a patent in 2010 and it was granted on September 24, 2013.
Soon after, out of money and struggling to get her business off the ground, a friend suggested she apply to be a contestant on every inventor’s favorite show, Shark Tank. She was accepted, and her episode aired in 2014. Though her appearance fell short of success—Mark Cuban told her she was delusional, Kevin O’Leary told her she should take the business behind a barn and shoot it like a rabid dog, and Barbara Corcoran told her she was the right entrepreneur with the wrong idea—the show brought much-needed attention to the brand. “The day after the show aired, I had around 3,000 emails; I never gave up,” Cheek said.
The criticism she received on the show did cause Cheek to reconsider the business idea, however, and she and her partner soon after developed a Bluetooth dating app, abandoning the card-based approach upon which the patent was predicated. A few years later was when the trouble started for Cheek, and today, she is embroiled in her second lawsuit over a patent on a business she is no longer pursuing, both brought by a man, Alfred Pirri, Jr., whose first suit was dismissed in pre-trial conference. Cheek explains more:
What happened after your Shark Tank appearance?
In June 2017, I got an email from Alfred Pirri Jr.’s first lawyer [Oleg A. Mestechkin and Wing K. Chiu of Mestechkin Law Group, P.C.] about this million dollar lawsuit and I thought, “this has to be a joke.” After seeing a rerun of my Shark Tank episode in 2015, Pirri was claiming he had the idea for my business in 2006, told his therapist about it in late 2008, and that she had then told me—even though I’ve never met the therapist in my life and we have both sworn via affidavit to that. We immediately sent back an email with evidence of the URL registration and emails about the business going back to early 2008, but they still moved forward with the lawsuit. It took more than $50,000 and ten months to get it thrown out in pre-trial conference, but it didn’t go far enough to get thrown out with prejudice. It was shocking; it was the worst year of my life. It took a real health toll on me; I was just walking around in shock every single day. We paid $15,000 to get that patent, and what was it worth in the end, why did we even do that? I thought the lawsuit would be gone forever, but now it’s come back.
What is the latest suit claiming?
In the first lawsuit, Pirri was requesting that the patent be invalidated; in this latest suit, he’s requesting to be added to the patent as an inventor and is suing me for more than $5 million. I couldn’t fathom that it was happening all over again. We’ve completely started over and submitted all of this evidence to his new lawyer [Steven R. Fairchild of Fairchild Law, LLC]. I don’t know if they just don’t believe me, but you can find all of the evidence online at GoDaddy, and I have a signed letter from a witness who was there in 2008 when we first started working on the pickup lines. What’s unfair is that the therapist’s [Joanne Richards] hospital legal team is paying her fees and Pirri’s lawyer is probably a contingent-fee lawyer, so I’m the only one who’s losing. Our business is still a free app—we’re not making a dime right now.
How has this experience made you feel about the U.S. patent and legal systems?
I just don’t understand how it can even go this far, or how it could have gone that far the first time. I have no idea how long it could go on again this time. After all I’ve been through, I just don’t want to have to shut this operation down because of this man who saw me on a reality TV show. At this point, I wish I’d never filed for this patent. It has done nothing for me except get me into this situation. I’ve joined forces with Josh Malone and a group of other inventors who are reaching out to Congressman Jerrold Nadler to see if he can change the system to make it easier for inventors to hold onto and enforce their rights. We sent him a letter but have not yet heard from him.
What advice do you have for other aspiring inventors?
I would still say go through the motions and read up on the risks—definitely still get a patent, and trademarking is important. I’ve asked my lawyer what I could have done differently, and he said I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and that if I hadn’t gone on Shark Tank, I wouldn’t be here.
Pirri’s first suit targeted his therapist, Joanne Richards, and Cheek, alleging that “a series of unconscionable acts [were] committed by a social worker who took the most sacred confidences entrusted in her during her sessions and disclosed them to an architect, who then took that information and claimed it as her own in a patent application filed with the Patent and Trademark Office.” He sought to invalidate the patent based on allegedly false statements of inventorship and to obtain damages and injunctive relief. In the second suit, he is seeking to “correct” the named inventors listed on U.S. Patent No. 8,543,465 and claiming breach fiduciary duty of confidentiality, unjust enrichment, misappropriation of trade secrets, conversion and fraud under New York common law.
Cheek’s lawyer, Lawrence Goodwin, told IPWatchdog that Pirri’s lawsuit is “a fantasy” and a “nutty proposition, any way you cut it.” “We’ve got solid evidence that she came up with the idea before Pirri even started therapy,” Goodwin said. But that doesn’t change the fact that Cheek will have to shell out thousands while the case makes its way through the system.
“This is an issue that is much broader than the patent system,” Goodwin said. “It’s a commentary on the federal court system—it’s burdensome and a shame that this new counsel has bothered to assert a second case. The check on that, however, is that we have the ability to seek attorney’s fees,” he added.
Unfortunately for Cheek though, for now she has no choice but to trudge onward through the quagmire of the U.S. litigation process.
IPWatchdog reached out to Mr. Pirri’s current attorney, Steven Fairchild, for comment, but had not received a response as of the time of publication.