Some rideshare riders may prefer Lyft thanks to the friendlier corporate image the company has carefully cultivated.
But that image might be in jeopardy due to a recently filed patent infringement lawsuit claiming the company stole a university professor’s patent to build their platform’s core. The pink mustache can only carry the company so far, and if this suit is successful, it could spell disaster for the rideshare giant, or just a big ding in the pocketbook.
Patent Troll, or Visionary?
While the initial reaction most people will have is that this professor is some kind of patent troll, this would seem to be his first trolling (a quick Google search didn’t turn up any other lawsuits). The Lyft lawsuit explains that he secured a patent for what is essentially the core functionality of Lyft’s services, and other rideshare services, but that the patent was owned by the university he worked for until he retired and re-secured his own patent.
In 1999, before smartphones were really a thing, and before there was an app market, or “the sharing economy,” or even a mass market for energy drinks, Professor Stephen Dickerson thought up a system to use handheld devices, GPS, and an automated billing system, to connect riders with drivers. He filed for a patent in 2001, got it 2004, transferred it to his university, and then in 2012, Lyft started.
Luckily for Lyft, the university never pursued legal action. However, since patent infringement claims don’t really come with a normal statute of limitations like other claims, when Dickerson was able to reacquire his patent upon retirement, he also acquired the right to sue Lyft, and likely other rideshare companies, for infringing upon his visionary patent.
His lawsuit seeks unpaid royalties and compensation, and also seeks an injunction (though that would likely be moot if the company agrees to pay royalties, or licensing fees, moving forward). There is no word on whether other rideshare companies will be in Dickerson’s crosshairs, but given the wording of the patent, and the claim, it seems inevitable.