A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that my name had been dragged into a significant piece of litigation in the US. Here’s how it happened, and why you should be careful about what you write online…
Back in October 2009, I was browsing LinkedIn and a discussion about patents caught my attention. In summary, Gene Quinn, the owner and CEO of IP Watchdog, Inc. and founder of their website at “ipwatchdog.com”, was announcing his resignation from the board of United Inventors Association (UIA) because they had accepted an invitation from Invention Submission Corp. (doing business as InventHelp) to look at what exactly InventHelp does. He set out in detail in his blog what he thought of InventHelp and why he did not think they should be spoken with. His blog seeks, and in my experience always publishes, readers’ comments. So I commented.
I said I thought his position was unfortunate because his opinions would have much more weight if he was able to debunk myths using first hand evidence, and said that by resigning now he was letting InventHelp have the last word, thereby depriving himself, and his readers, of a much more powerful rebuttal. (The Executive Director of UIA is reported to have said the resigning director was “scared”, and that accepting the invitation was precisely what a watchdog should have done.)
Regardless, InventHelp sued IP Watchdog, Inc and Mr. Quinn personally for some of the things he said about them. (For anyone who thought I’d been sued, sorry to disappoint you!) Among the statements relied upon by the plaintiffs were several made my Mr. Quinn in response to my comments on his blog. You can read them in context here. In summary, though, he responded to my comments by saying:
- “[Plaintiff] is a scam that preys on inventors – period.”
- “There is nothing to talk about unless and until they stop being a scam.”
- “[Plaintiff is] the largest of all scams.”
- “Any reputable profession or organization that listens to [plaintiff] or collaborates with them will have their scam stench rub off on them.”
- [Plaintiff] is a well documented scam.”
Of course, getting sued is not the same thing as having done anything wrong. Plenty of people get sued when there is no merit to the claim either on the facts or in law. In the end, the legal merits of this suit were never put to the test as it settled a couple of weeks ago. The “final piece” of the settlement was a statement posted on the ipwatchdog.com website, which you can read here.
What’s the takeaway? Two things. First, if you post online, whether through comments, or your own blogs, or whatever, remember that you are not writing an email: you’re making statements that can be read by the whole world, and once they’re out there it’s going to be very difficult to get rid of them. Second, even emails can be distributed beyond their intended recipients, so take a moment to think about what you’re going to say before you say it, whatever it is.