Is Congressman Darrell Issa a patent troll?

Congressman Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). Public domain.

“Patent trolls, in my opinion, are the scourge of the patent world,” said Congressman Darrell Issa (R-CA) at a House IP subcommittee hearing on June 13, 2017. “We have time and time again attempted to stop patent trolls while in fact being objected to by genuine innovators who feel that they will be trampled in our effort to stop the worst of the worst.”

Issa represents California’s 49th Congressional district, including areas of San Diego and Orange Counties, in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to the bio on Issa’s House website, he served in the U.S. Army after graduating high school and went on to become the CEO of Directed Electronics, Inc., a company Issa founded in the mid-1990s which sold anti-theft devices for vehicles such as the Viper car alarm. Issa’s bio also notes that he has served as the chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association, today the Consumer Technology Association.

“As the holder of 37 patents himself, Issa has been vigilant about protecting the intellectual property rights of artists and other entrepreneurs to help protect America’s position at the forefront of innovation and creativity in the entertainment and technology industries,” Issa’s bio reads. According to Congressional blog TheHill, those 37 patents are the most patents held by a Congressional representative on record. (Not far behind Issa is Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY), who holds 29 patents and has spoken recently about the ways that the current patent reform debate is weakening the U.S. patent system.) It should be no surprise that Issa’s business success, supported by the strength of his intellectual property, has led to great wealth for the Congressman; as of November 2015, Issa was reportedly the richest member of Congress with an estimated minimum net worth of $254.7 million, about $150 million more than the second-richest member of Congress at the time. Much of Issa’s fortune comes from his time as CEO of Directed Electronics, according to reports.

“For purposes of my opening statement, ‘plaintiff’ and ‘troll’ will be interchangeable.” – Congressman Darrell Issa, House IP subcommittee hearing dated 4/14/16

Given Issa’s history with patents and innovation, it would seem to make sense that he serves as the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. But Congressman Darrell Issa, while an inventor himself, seems to take a dim view of the private property rights of other patent owners. In a House IP subcommittee hearing on April 14th, 2016, Issa led off his comments by equating all plaintiffs in patent suits with patent trolls. More than a year later, Issa breaths more brimstone into the debate by calling trolls the “scourge of the patent world” in a June 13th, 2017, hearing of the House IP subcommittee, a hearing that included a panel witness who had very little business being there at all.

“Whoever came up with that phrase [patent troll] should get a special bonus because they manage to mischaracterize anyone who goes to court to assert patent rights as a troll… What I came to understand was one man’s patent troll was another man’s assertion of a patent right which they fought for and worked for for years which is now being infringed upon by some giant.” – Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senate Judiciary Committee hearing dated 4/25/17

Between January 1st, 2000, and July 7th, 2017, Directed Electronics was a party to 40 patent infringement cases filed in U.S. district court involving intellectual property according to data analytics available through Lex Machina; most of those cases were filed in 2000, although one case has been filed as recently as 2015. Directed Electronics was listed as a plaintiff in 36 of those 40 filed cases. On 36 different occasions, many of which occurred during the year in which Issa was elected to the House of Representatives, the company that Issa founded operated in a way that easily qualifies it a “patent troll” by Issa’s own definition of the term.

U.S. Patent No. 5646591, titled Advanced Method of Indicating Incoming Threat Level to an Electronically Secured Vehicle and Apparatus Therefor, lists Issa as the lead inventor and has been asserted in 32 cases filed in U.S. district court. In 26 of those cases, there were findings of patent infringement, with most infringement findings coming in consent judgments. Directed Electronics was awarded damages in 13 cases with total awards reaching a combined $128,000.

Only $128,000 collected from a combined 13 cases? That is less than $10,000 per case, which doesn’t even approach the nuisance value the truly bad actors, the true patent trolls that Issa himself and so many others rail against as extortion artists, seek to collect. Indeed, the FTC report on Patent Assertion Entities from October 2016 suggested that settlements of less than $300,000 suggested malicious and malevolent behavior that should raise suspicions of patent trolling. If that is true, what does this say about the ongoing enforcement campaign of Issa’s own patents? It would certainly seem that there are all the indicia of patent trolling that Issa so frequently enjoys pontificating about when he witnesses the behavior displayed by others.

Furthermore, claim 1 of the Issa ‘591 patent claims:

A method of indicating a degree of incoming threat to an electronically secured area comprising the steps of:

a) sensing via a sensor means a degree of threat delivered to a secured area;

b) generating from the output of said means an electric signal proportional to said degree of threat;

c) analyzing said signal to determine if it represents a low degree of threat or a high degree of threat; and

d) producing either a first pulse representing said low degree of threat or separately producing said first pulse and a second pulse representing a signal having both said low degree of threat and said high degree of threat.

This looks awful simplistic and very unlikely to survive any kind of serious scrutiny in the wake of the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2014 Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International decision. Therefore, it is extremely likely that if challenged this and the other claims would fall as have been improvidently granted by the patent examiner. That being the case, it seems that at least this Issa patent is quite dubious at best. Still, this dubious patent has been used nearly three dozen times as part of an ongoing enforcement campaign for nearly two decades. Yet another telltale sign of patent trolling, or at least so we are repeatedly told by Congressman Darrell Issa and others who share his beliefs.



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Join the Discussion

26 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Patent Investor]
    Patent Investor
    July 15, 2017 01:04 pm

    Issa has now taken this too far by attacking particular federal judges and their decisions. By calling out Judge Gilstrap in Marshall, Texas he is not only out of his league legally, but also showing, once again, who his real masters really are, the efficient infringers.

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 15, 2017 12:08 pm

    Plus I think the PTAB might invalidate all of Ziplocs improvements depending on how broadly they want to view the original patent.

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 15, 2017 11:21 am


    I have no hard feelings toward you at all. So no worries.

    I am an innovator. When the Army, NASA and their contractors ask for your technology then you’re innovating.
    They will use it. That’s not the problem.

    The problem is making sure that I get paid. I don’t want to be one of those innovators who give the world great stuff and die poor.

    It’s merely a matter of time before they all switch. They and I know it.

    The problem is I’m a lowly small player with no advanced degrees and I’m very young. Ageism and jealousy toward me by 50 year old researchers who’ve been looking for my solution since 1960.

    And my competitors have been around 100 years selling the same crap.

    The fraud, waste, abuse, and revolving door politics are dragging out the adoption time but adoption is inevitable.

    Mark my words.

    Also yeah I’ve read that article. But thanks

  • [Avatar for Anon]
    July 15, 2017 10:29 am


    For all of our banter, I do commend you for trying to be an innovator.

    Thought this might interest you (although you are probably well aware of it already):

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 13, 2017 10:10 pm


    I read your blog and I like your position…but I don’t like faceless organizations…

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 13, 2017 09:51 pm

    @Patent Investor,

    Ah. Control issues.

    Thanks for the knowledge.

  • [Avatar for Patent Investor]
    Patent Investor
    July 13, 2017 04:43 pm

    @17 Tesla Thomas: “Does anyone know why trade secrets misappropriation gets such harsh penalties and not patent infringement?”

    Simple, trade secret misappropriation is usually stealing from the big boys and patent infringement is stealing from the little guy.

  • [Avatar for staff]
    July 13, 2017 02:06 pm

    ‘As the holder of 37 patents himself, Issa has been vigilant about protecting the intellectual property rights of artists and other entrepreneurs to help protect America’s position at the forefront of innovation and creativity in the entertainment and technology industries’

    According to the USPTO PAIR website Rep Issa is not an inventor -he has never been listed as an applicant in any issued patent. How he came to have an ownership stake in the patents of others (or if) we do not know. It appears he is misrepresenting himself.

    Based on his conduct and the bills he has had a hand in, it gives us every indication his sensibilities and interests are completely aligned with large infringers (thieves), not with inventors. Why does he align himself so?

    For our position and the changes we advocate (the rest of the truth) to truly reform the patent system, or to join our effort, please visit us at
    or, contact us at [email protected]

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 12, 2017 02:31 pm

    Oh and even better…
    If tech giants are eliminating patents while bolstering trademarks it means their grand old scheme is to make it so trademarks rule and no one wants to patent the trade secret.

    The easiest way to know your trade secret is no longer your IP is when someone patents it.

    Even now, noncompetes are becoming more common even for ‘low level’ workers. it’s unfair. It’s a trap.

    I think this is all just terrible.

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 12, 2017 02:15 pm

    I’m sorry Night Writer. 🙁

    But choosing between unemployment and prison doesn’t seem great.

    Does anyone know why trade secrets misappropriation gets such harsh penalties and not patent infringement?
    Is it due to ITAR/EAR?

    Just seems weird to me…

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    July 12, 2017 02:08 pm

    >What software?
    >“It’s a trade secret.”

    For those of that have lived through Trade Secrets that is not a joke, but a painful memory.

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 12, 2017 11:09 am

    @Night Writer

    Like Rick Derris said it’s too bad they don’t think critically enough to know what’s good for them.

    The anti- patent stance is huge among programmers.

    They won’t have any descriptive bullet points on their resumes if patents go away.

    Well besides “designed software.”

    What software?
    “It’s a trade secret.”

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    July 12, 2017 09:09 am

    @12 Definitely. Trade secrets is the path to trapping the techies. You see, companies starting doing this in the 1980’s when I was developer. The idea is you create a proprietary system and then the techies have to learn that. The whole system is treated like a trade secret so if you are a techie and want to leave, then what do you have to do? You have to re-tool yourself and almost start over. Particularly the more they can incorporate the space into the trade secrets. I think we are already seeing this in driverless car tech.

    That is where we are headed. I am pretty sure just one or two more wins for Mark Lemley and we are going to reach a tipping point where patent filing will start dropping by about 25% in the US (now they are already dropping in the US if you normalize the numbers. Mark Lemley is the most unethical person I have run across in academia.)

  • [Avatar for Eric Berend]
    Eric Berend
    July 12, 2017 08:10 am

    @ 10., ‘Rick Derris’:

    That would be some lawyer at Intel, sometime in the very early 2000’s. Remember Intel? With all the hatred and hand wringing over Microsoft’s “Battering Ram” Ballmer-type vicious business tactics, coming out of the 1980’s and 1990’s – it was Intel that was socked with consent decrees in at least 5 of the G8 nations, by about year 2008 – well ahead of such examinations of Microsoft by legal authorities in various foreign countries; even though M$ got almost all of the ‘bad publicity’ seen in that time.

    Intel, is the root of many evils in the IT industry, today. “Patent troll”?! Lawyer-crafted and flack-accelerated: courtesy of Intel. Google and friends, merely picked up that ball and expanded the game, putting this vile exploit ‘on steroids’. The rest, is much more well known and of a more recent history, in the patent prosecution space.

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 11, 2017 09:21 pm

    @Night Writer, 10:

    Pretty sure Google, Apple, etc. are all tired of ruthlessly competing for employees and ‘overpaying’ software engineers which of course leads to these employees leaving with their money to start competing firms.

    They’re basically paying their future competition.
    Nothing worse than a rich employee. You can’t trap them and treat them any which kind of way. And, they can just call off rich.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    July 11, 2017 09:15 pm

    @9 Rick Derris

    I think the techs will be streaming for stronger patents in 10 years, but it will be too late. Their mobility, salaries, and ability to disclose their work all are a result of patents.

  • [Avatar for Rick Derris]
    Rick Derris
    July 11, 2017 02:28 pm

    “Whoever came up with that phrase [patent troll] should get a special bonus because they manage to mischaracterize anyone who goes to court to assert patent rights as a troll”

    That’s the unfortunate truth. Many of the brogrammers and techdouchebags I’ve had to deal with consider ANYBODY who files suit to be a patent troll. Of course, they’re exempt, with their useless provisionals detailing their “we’re like Twitter but with feature ‘A'” products. Meanwhile Facebook, Apple, and Google bend the brogrammers and techbags over, and their main response is “thank you sir may I have another” or “wow! Apple chose to screw over ME! I’m so proud!”

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    July 11, 2017 12:49 pm

    @5 Ed

    Seems so. Hard to imagine our patent system being corrected given the actors.

  • [Avatar for TBD]
    July 11, 2017 11:40 am

    Thank you for the timely research. Claim 1 appears to be invalid under s.101/Alice, lol.

  • [Avatar for Tesia Thomas]
    Tesia Thomas
    July 11, 2017 07:49 am

    I’d donate.

  • [Avatar for The Time Is Now To Act]
    The Time Is Now To Act
    July 10, 2017 09:59 pm

    Appearance of @ 3 – so true!

    The thing about pulling up the ladder is; you can also trap yourself at a time when you most need others.

  • [Avatar for Edward Heller]
    Edward Heller
    July 10, 2017 07:49 pm

    Issa is a troll. I knew he was dishonest.

  • [Avatar for Appearance of ...]
    Appearance of …
    July 10, 2017 03:19 pm

    But remember the general rule: “I am a legitimate inventor, you are a troll!” So therefore if Darrell Issa is investigating, he is not a troll. This is also called “pulling up the ladder.”

  • [Avatar for Patent Investor]
    Patent Investor
    July 10, 2017 01:03 pm

    NW @1 We KNOW he takes the time to take the checks.

  • [Avatar for Night Writer]
    Night Writer
    July 10, 2017 12:30 pm

    You would think he would take the time to understand the issues. Just strange.

  • [Avatar for Bemused]
    July 10, 2017 12:03 pm

    How about we crowd fund an IPR against this patent so Issa can have the pleasure of seeing firsthand the “benefits” of the AIA which he repeatedly touts as being beneficial to weeding out so-called “bad” patents?