Patents As Weapons: How 1-800-CONTACTS Is Using The Patent System To Kill An Innovative Startup

Mike Masnick | Techdirt | April 26, 2013

from the shameful dept

We've talked many times about how patents are often used as weapons to kill innovative startups that threaten legacy players. Ryan alerts us to a perfect example of this in practice. 1-800-CONTACTS, the giant online contact lens/glasses space, is trying to kill off an upstart innovative competitor called Ditto. And, no, this is not a case of Ditto copying something that 1-800-CONTACTS invented. The details are astounding. First of all, Ditto's main innovation is doing something that 1-800-CONTACTS does not do (though it has since announced plans to introduce something similar), which is to let buyers of glasses take a quick webcam video of their face, and then be able to see what they would look like in various pairs of glasses. That's pretty cool. The 15 person startup got some funding for this... and then promptly got sued by the bigger company. And 1-800-CONTACTS' actions in this case show that it set out, deliberately, to kill off this innovative startup:

It appears that 1-800-CONTACTS' CEO went onto Ditto's website the very day it launched, presumably to investigate the upstart competitor's new technology. Having seen Ditto's product, 1-800-CONTACTS then went out and purchased a patent from a defunct company that claims to cover selling eyeglasses over a network using a 3D model of a user's face.