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N.H. court rejects 'patent troll' libel appeal in favor of CUNA, ABA

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The New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed a suit against the Credit Union National Association, the American Bankers Association and others.

Automated Transactions LLC, a patent assertion entity, sued the banking trade groups in late 2016 for being labeled as a “patent troll.”

Court documents detail that a 2013 presentation from Robin Cook, formerly CUNA's senior director of advocacy and counsel for special projects, included a photo of a troll and, on a later slide, allegedly identified the firm as a “well-known patent troll.”

ATL referred to the presentation as “extremely defamatory” because "it include[d] a derogatory picture of a troll,” according to court documents.

The suit also targeted the American Bankers Association, which referred to the firm as a patent troll in congressional testimony in 2013 and 2014.

The patent firm also alleged that its revenues declined due to the defendants’ statements, citing that the term was defamatory.

In order for a plaintiff to win a libel lawsuit, it must prove a statement is false and defamatory. The court dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that being referred to as a troll was a statement of opinion, which could not lend itself to defamation since a statement of opinion is unable to be proved false.

ATL appealed the decision to New Hampshire’s highest court, but the appeal was struck down on Friday, Aug. 16. In its ruling, the New Hampshire Supreme Court reiterated that referring to someone as a troll is a statement of opinion and therefore unable to be defamatory.

“The court found that the references to the plaintiffs as patent trolls were no more than the opinions of the defendants, the facts upon which those opinions were based were evident from context, and the statements did not imply the existence of other facts,” court documents said.

Neither CUNA nor the ABA responded to Credit Union Journal's request for comment.

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