May 26, 2021 Adventures in the Law

Lonely Corporation Seeks Companionship

Norm Tabler

When Jedi Technologies sued dating app SCRUFF for patent infringement, SCRUFF responded with a bombshell: Jedi itself was one of the lonely hearts using its dating app!

Signing up for the SCRUFF app not only suggested that Jedi was a lonely corporation seeking companionship; it also meant that Jedi was bound by the standard terms and conditions of the SCRUFF app, including˗˗guess what˗˗an agreement to settle disputes through arbitration. Accordingly, SCRUFF moved to dismiss Jedi’s case and compel arbitration.

Was Jedi looking for love? How and why had it signed up for a dating app˗˗an app that allegedly infringed on its own patents? (And why would anyone sign up for a dating app named SCRUFF?)

SCRUFF records revealed that someone calling himself jediscruff (why do so many date-seekers use phony names?) had, in fact, signed up for the app and in doing so agreed to terms and conditions that included arbitration.

The photo submitted by jediscruff looked exactly like a man named Brian Haan. What’s more, jediscruff had accessed the app with Brian’s personal mobile phone from a location suspiciously close to Brian’s office. And jediscruff’s email address was the same as Brian’s. There could be no doubt about it: jediscruff and Brian were one and the same!

But who was Brian Haan? That’s easy. Brian was Jedi’s lawyer in this very case. SCRUFF’s argument was simple: Brian is Jedi’s lawyer in this case. Brian signed up for the app (even using a name that includes jedi) and agreed to arbitration. A party is bound by its lawyer’s actions. Ergo, Jedi has agreed to arbitration. Q.E.D.

Was Brian acting on Jedi’s behalf when he signed up for the dating app? Had his client directed him to assist in finding Mr. or Miss Right, Inc.? Or, alternatively, was Brian acting on his own, looking for love personally rather than as an agent?

Neither, the court ruled. Brian was acting in his professional capacity, but not as an agent of Jedi. He was fulfilling his duties under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, requiring a lawyer to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the facts and the law before filing a claim in court. Brian accessed and joined SCRUFF as jediscruff in order to determine whether the app, in fact, infringed on Jedi’s patents and therefore whether he could in good faith file Jedi’s infringement case.

Accordingly, the court denied SCRUFF’s motion to compel arbitration and allowed Jedi’s patent infringement case against SCRUFF to proceed.

But there may be more to the Jedi-Brian-SCRUFF triangle than meets the eye. There is evidence that Jedi was, in fact, looking for another company to keep company with and had commissioned Brian to act as Cupid on its behalf.

The evidence can’t be found in Brian’s joining SCRUFF as jediscruff. The court got that one right. Rather, the evidence lies in Brian’s pre-suit letter to SCRUFF. The letter was not the typical cease-and-desist-or-we’ll-sue-the-pants-off-you demand. The letter expressly stated that Jedi’s sole objective is to initiate business discussions with [SCRUFF’s owner] about obtaining rights under Jedi’s patent portfolio and a possible business collaboration.

On Jedi’s behalf, Brian was asking SCRUFF for a first date, or at least to meet for a drink.

The case is Perry St. Software, Inc. v. Jedi Technologies, Inc., No. 1:2020cv04539 - Document 66 (S.D. N.Y. 2020)

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Norm Tabler

Indianapolis, IN

Norm Tabler is a retired lawyer in Indianapolis. He serves on the editorial advisory boards of the ABA Senior Lawyers Division’s Voice of Experience and the ABA Health Law Section’s The Health Lawyerwrites a monthly column for the Indiana Bar Association’s Res Gestae and is host of the American Health Lawyers Association’s podcast, The Lighter Side of Health LawEmail Norm.