Tale as old as time. Now that family social network Life360 is firmly established in the big leagues — with 33m registered families, and having raised $50m last week from ADT — it was inevitable that the patent trolls would come calling.
But where most CEOs are happy to let their lawyers set the tone of how they respond, Life360’s Chris Hulls has a more, uh, refreshing approach.
When Hulls received a letter from attorney acting for Florida-based Advanced Ground Information Systems, inviting Life360 to “discuss” a “patent licensing agreement” for what AGIS claims is its pre-existing patent for displaying markers of people on a map, he decided to bypass his own attorneys and instead send an email reply straight out of David Mamet…
According to Hulls, AGIS is “probably our 4th or 5th patent troll. Previously, we would just pay these guys off. Timing was never right for a fight as we always were working on some big deal or fundraise, and the specter of a lawsuit, even a bs one, was scary.”
But the claim from AGIS came just after Life360’s $50m raise and, says Hulls, he was feeling “a bit aggressive.”
“Our lawyers in typical fashion suggested we go for a settlement, and leave emotion out of it. But, we also raised $50m last week, and I was feeling a bit aggressive, so I ignored our lawyers advice and sent them a snarky response calling them a piece of shit.”
In one sense, the aggressiveness is the logical approach: With fresh millions in the bank — and scuttlebut that they’re likely to be acquired outright by ADT in the next 12-18 months — Life360 has a pretty hefty war chest to take on the trolls.
Hulls’ move reminds me of DoubleClick’s Kevin O’Connor pledging a million dollars of his own money to fight patent trolls going after his next startup, FindTheBest. But, of course, O’Connor was already a very wealthy man by that point — DoubleClick sold to Google for $3.1bn. Hulls has plenty to lose if he gets distracted by litigation, causing ADT (or any other potential acquirer) to get spooked.
Either way, it’s a ballsy move. And a refreshing one in a tech industry that increasingly seems to defer to lawyers before blowing its nose. For its part, AGIS has already responded, skipping a settlement offer, and demanding a jury trial to settle the claim. The full legal complaint is below.
Says Hulls: “I’m getting a huge groundswell of support for shunning standard legal advice, which feels great. My plan is to take this fight the duration, invalidate the patent, and make sure they can’t do this to anyone else. Who knows.. maybe it will make others take a stand? As a broader idea, maybe this type of action needs to come from Series B/C/D companies, as smaller ones don’t have the cash for a fight, and bigger ones are beholden to their own legal teams. We are right in the sweet spot where I can still make these brash decisions and apologize for the mess later.”