from the calling-a-spade-a-spade dept.
A New Hampshire state court has dismissed a defamation suit filed by a patent owner unhappy that it had been called a "patent troll". The court ruled [PDF] that the phrase "patent troll" and other rhetorical characterizations are not the type of factual statements that can be the basis of a defamation claim. While this is a fairly routine application of defamation law and the First Amendment, it is an important reminder that patent assertion entities--or "trolls"--are not shielded from criticism. Regardless of your view about the patent system, this is a victory for freedom of expression.
[...] The court went on to explain that "patent troll" is a term without a precise meaning that "doesn't enable the reader or hearer to know whether the label is true or false". The court notes that the term could encompass a broad range of activity (which some might see as beneficial, while others see it as harmful).
The court also ruled that challenged statements such as "shakedown" and comparisons to "blackmail" were non-actionable "rhetorical hyperbole". This is consistent with a long line of cases finding such language to be protected. Indeed, this is why John Oliver can call coal magnate Robert Murray a "geriatric Dr. Evil" and tell him to "eat shit". As the ACLU has put it, you can't sue people for being mean to you. Strongly expressed opinions, whether you find them childish or hilariously apt (or both), are part of living in a free society.