The Wall Street Journal print edition had an interesting article about a new trend in defending lawsuits that focused on an IP dispute — A Growing Dispute: Fertilizer Start-Up Uses Web as Defense (subscription required). The article discusses TerraCycle Inc.’s use of a website (www.suedbyscotts.com) to bolster its defense of a lawsuit Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. filed against TerraCycle alleging trade dress infringement and false advertising.* According to the article, TerraCycle has not raised much money from its online solicitation for defense fund donations. But during the first four weeks of its online defense, TerraCycle’s sales jumped 122%, as opposed to 31% during the same period last year. TerraCycle also saw a corresponding spike in visits to its primary website. The WSJ Law Blog picked up on the story and developed it further, identifying several other defendants that have used websites as an aspect of their defense strategies, including Vonage’s site (www.freetocompete.com) developed in connection with its prominent patent dispute.
It appears that defending cases on the internet is a growing trend. I doubt it will benefit defendants within the confines of the courtroom or the legal proceedings generally. Perhaps bringing details of the suit into the public eye will help identify additional prior art or apply pressure from interest groups like consumers or shareholders to get plaintiffs to change tactics. But it seems to me that the biggest benefit of these sites may commercial, they make news and drive additional traffic to the defendant’s primary site.
* You can read more about the Scotts Miracle-Gro v. TerraCycle dispute at the Seattle Trademark Lawyer.