There’s ordinary evil, and then there’s greedy, grasping, gratuitous evil

We’re going to have to work on our categories, I see. This one is a mess about profiteering, lawyers who serve greed rather than justice, and an astonishingly selfish view of a pandemic as an opportunity to exploit everyone. Patent trolls are trying to block companies that make COVID-19 diagnostic tests.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to begin this story or how to fit all the insanity into the title. It’s a story involving patents, patent trolling, Covid-19, Theranos, and even the company that brought us all WeWork: SoftBank. Oh, and also Irell & Manella, the same law firm that once claimed it could represent a monkey in a copyright infringement dispute. You see, Irell & Manella has now filed one of the most utterly bullshit patent infringement lawsuits you’ll ever see. They are representing “Labrador Diagnostics LLC” a patent troll which does not seem to exist other than to file this lawsuit, and which claims to hold the rights to two patents (US Patents 8,283,155 and 10,533,994) which, you’ll note, were originally granted to Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos — the firm that shut down in scandal over medical testing equipment that appears to have been oversold and never actually worked. Holmes is still facing federal charges of wire fraud over the whole Theranos debacle.

However, back in 2018, the remains of Theranos sold its patents to Fortress Investment Group. Fortress Investment Group is a SoftBank-funded massive patent troll. You may remember the name from the time last fall when Apple and Intel sued the firm, laying out how Fortress is a sort of uber-patent troll, gathering up a bunch of patents and then shaking down basically everyone. Lovely, right?

So, this SoftBank-owned patent troll, Fortress, bought up Theranos patents, and then set up this shell company, “Labrador Diagnostics,” which decided that right in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic it was going to sue one of the companies making Covid-19 tests, saying that its test violates those Theranos patents, and literally demanding that the court bar the firm from making those Covid-19 tests.

This is shaking up my perspective — I thought conservatives were the apotheosis of evil and Satan incarnate, but these guys seem even worse. Irell & Manella are American lawyers based in Los Angeles, so the only hope for my equanimity is that they’re also Republicans.


  1. wzrd1 says

    This is an extraordinary risk for the patent troll and their legal staff.
    They are willfully and knowingly interfering in the response to a declared national emergency, which is a violation of USC 50 and can be responded to via the extraordinary powers granted the Chief Executive under USC Title 50 § 1621 and USC Title 50 § 1701, as well as USC Title 50 § 1651 and various entities under the Patriot Act and the Sedition Act of 1918 (which has withstood SCOTUS examination).

    So, the lot of officers and attorneys involved are looking at 20 years to life in a federal prison for interfering with the response to a national emergency.
    As well as painting a fluorescent orange target on all of their backs for our resident armed wingnut population.

  2. raven says

    I’m not sure that there is much to worry about here.
    There is nothing special about the Covid-19 tests themselves.
    They are simple and based on decades old technology.
    The technology that Kary Mullis (now dead) developed, PCR, Polymerase Chain Reaction.

    The one unique feature is the sample of RNA that is Reverse Transcribed into DNA for the reaction.
    It is the virus genome, i.e. Covid-19 RNA.
    And that virus didn’t even exist that we know of, until December 2019, well after Theranos crashed.

    Without knowing the exact details and reading the patents, I’m just making a best guess here.
    But really, the usual response to a pointless lawsuit is, “OK, see you in court.”

  3. christoph says

    @wzrd1, # 1: “which is a violation of USC 50 and can be responded to via the extraordinary powers granted the Chief Executive”

    This would present Trump with an interesting ethical dilemma…

  4. wzrd1 says

    @2, it can still tie things up in the courts for a decade. But, the national emergency declaration opens some windows to make the parasites seriously regret ever being born.

    @3, Trump and ethical dilemma are rather like another oxymoronic term, “military intelligence” and that’s something said by a retired US Army type. Trump has no ethics worth speaking of, beyond the sociopath variety of ethos, so putting the legal screws to the parasites would be trivial and damaging in the extreme to the parasites.

    BTW, there was another jewel in the crown of far right idiocy, Former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke, better known as “The People’s Sheriff”. Thus far, he’s just on the edge of committing sedition, he only needs to mention arms or militias to complete the set and get him sent up the river for a long, long time.
    Streets are battlegrounds, per his own public words and removal of governmental “interference” that’s demanded by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution adds to the offense, while promoting public unrest and disobedience to emergency orders and restrictions in time of a national emergency already opening him up for charges under the Sedition Act of 1918.
    We have laws, we have them for a reason and it’s about time to teach miscreants that misbehavior during an emergency has severe consequences. Go beyond sedition and venture into treason, corruption of blood and writ of attainder are authorized by the Constitution itself for the lifetime of the convict.

  5. says

    Irell and Manella is worse than being “Republican.” Its primary client base is Hollywood studios and bigshots. I’ve tangled with the firm before and… um… foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds, but the minds at Irell and Manella are so small they remain untroubled by any consistency apart from “We’ve got the money and we want yours too.”

  6. microraptor says

    @1: Oh good. I was hoping there was some way that the company could be charged with a crime over this.

  7. blf says

    @6, And, in this sort of case (perhaps especially), their lawyers (both individually and collectively).

  8. Aaron says


    But really, the usual response to a pointless lawsuit is, “OK, see you in court.”

    You say this on a blog where there is a giant link with a red border on the side that says “Please donate to our legal defense fund!”, costs accrued from defending a completely meritless claim from Richard Carrier (that has been dismissed with prejudice). This particular situation with COVID patents is special, but in the general case your recommendation is naive, at best.

  9. raven says

    This particular situation with COVID patents is special, but in the general case your recommendation is naive, at best.

    Raven: “See you in court.”

    OK, what would you do?
    In the case you just mentioned, Richard Carrier, would you just pay him off to go away?
    Hide in a closet and hope it goes away?

    I’ve dealt with patent trolls before.
    Federal court, jury trial.
    We won.

  10. christoph says

    @ wzrd1, # 4: I was being ironic-Trump’s ethical dilemma would be rather he upholds the law or shields a bunch of opportunistic patent trolls.
    I think writs of attainder are specifically forbidden by the Constitution:
    “Our U.S. Constitution prohibits bills of attainder through Article I, Section 9, Clause 3, along with ex post facto laws and laws impairing contracts. … They are also banned because they violate the first principle of the social compact, in that the American people must agree to their laws in order to be governed.”

  11. daved says

    The shell company that owns the patents, Labrador Diagnostics, has now backed off and said they’ll offer royalty-free licenses to anyone who wants to make COVID-19 diagnostic kits. I think they saw the writing on the wall. Discussion over at the link PZ provided does strongly suggest that the patents are worthless, but of course defending that costs money and takes time.

  12. Kagehi says

    @5 Jaws – “We’ve got the money and we want yours too.”

    Ah, so.. libertarians then?

  13. says

    A large part of the problem with US politics right now is this mistaken belief that there are two sides, the left and the right.
    This is false. The sides are 1) The very rich people who decide everything, 2) the vast sycophantic political architecture that exists to support their power and 3) everybody else.
    By this measure, attempting to make money by holding #3 hostage to a global pandemic is an expression of entrepreneurial spirit and to be applauded by #2 to the benefit of #1.

  14. says

    @14 Kagehi: Nope. Just nonideological greed on the part of the entitled, egotistical, and egregiously ignorant. The minds in H’wood are too small for ideology beyond “gimme.” (I get to say this because I know them.)

  15. Akira MacKenzie says

    Of course, anyone’s support for Senator Sander’s is ALL cult of personality and has absolutely NOTHING to do with the desperate need for national health care, student debt relief, or dealing with any of the other issues created by our civilization’s addiction to capitalism. Also, my anger at a political party that, for decades, demands my vote in exchange for nothing save continuing to perpetuate the socio-economic system that continues to fuck me over is again due to my being enthralled by one senator from Vermont.

    Fuck you. Fuck you all.