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Interview with the Expert - Anthony Roberts

Quick Hit Summary

In this interview with the expert, we have the privilege of talking with Anthony Roberts. After briefly touching on his background we zero in on the topic of the day, patent trolling in the supplement industry. Anthony discusses what it is, the main trolls – Ron Kramer (Thermolife) & Newport Trial Group, how it affects the industry & the consumer as well as what YOU can do to help get rid of the act.

Patent Trolling

Figure 1. Ron Kramer (Thermolife) and the Newport Trial Group … The industry’s finest trolls.1

In this installment of Interview with the Expert we are joined by Anthony Roberts to discuss a topic that rarely gets mentioned but has important ripple effects in the health and performance community – patent trolling in the supplement industry. I was first introduced to the practice ~ 10-12 months via a Facebook conversation. Not being as familiar with it as I wanted to be, I decided to do a little google search. In doing so I came across various articles written by Anthony Roberts on Romano & Roberts. Long story short, the more I learned about supplement patent trolling, the more I was disgusted by the act. Now if you find yourself asking, "What’s patent trolling & why should I even care …?" today’s your lucky day. Without further delay, let’s get straight to our interview with Anthony Roberts…

On behalf of the CasePerformance Community, I want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us today. We appreciate the opportunity to share your insight on patent trolling and the nutritional industry.

Sure thing, I'm happy to help.

Before we get into patent trolling, can you share with our readers a bit about your background?

Alright – well, my educational background is in philosophy and English, and my athletic background is in martial arts and rugby. Within the industry I got my start by writing a book on steroids, then a bunch of articles, which transitioned me into designing some products for a nutritional supplement company.

Zeroing in on the topic at hand… What exactly is patent trolling and how does it relate to the supplement industry? Aren't patents supposed to be a good thing to protect one's invention?

Patent trolling is when a company, usually one that doesn't actually produce anything, purchases a patent for the sole purpose of enforcing it. For example, let's just say that some combination of vitamin E + vitamin C was patented back in the day. And today, tons of companies sell that combination, right? Well a patent troll would find out that it's been patented, go purchase it from the owner, and start sending letters to the people who are selling that combination, and threatening to sue them.

A perfect example is the patent on D-Aspartic Acid (DAA) for the purpose of elevating testosterone. That was patented by Patrick Arnold, and then purchased from him by Ron Kramer and Thermolife. They didn't produce a DAA supplement, but what they did produce were threats and lawsuits. Anyone using the ingredient had to pay them or stop using it, or be prepared to defend themselves against potentially costly litigation. In that particular case, the good guys won, and those who defended the lawsuit instead of allowing themselves to be extorted, had the patent declared invalid by the courts.

Who are the primary patents "trolls" in the supplement industry today?

Figure 2. Harcol Research LLC. An apparent front for Newport Trial Group Read More

There's Ron Kramer (Thermolife) and his lawyers, the Newport Trial Group who troll under a variety of names. (Besides Harcol Research LLC, noted in Figure 2, another pseudonym being used by Newport Trial is The Tawnsaura Group. They've purchased an old L-Citrulline lawsuit, which they've used to sue a variety of companies over the past couple of years). Between them, they are responsible for the majority of patent troll lawsuits in the industry. Think about that for a second: this one company and their lawyers are responsible for the majority of patent lawsuits in the entire industry.

I actually suspect that Thermolife has only released their latest products, after being out of stock for years, simply to attain competitor standing for future lawsuits, which will likely be Lanham Act filings. Watch what happens in the next few years and see if Thermolife doesn't file a bunch of lawsuits under Lanham statutes, similar to the one against Gaspari Nutrition.

How does the presence of these patent trolls affect the industry as a whole?

Well they don't typically create anything themselves. Rather, they purchase patents with the idea of extorting money from people. Typically they take money from companies, either by a licensing fee or by making them defend their products in court. As a result, those companies being trolled have less money to spend on innovation or hiring people or sponsoring athletes or whatever.

Remember a few years back when HCA was linked to all of these liver issues, and MuscleTech had to deal with a thousand different lawsuits? That meant they had less money to spend on advertising, which meant they bought less pages in magazines each month, and those magazines were forced to lay people off. I know a bunch of people who worked at magazines who lost their jobs because of that.

The effect on the industry is far-reaching and it affects lives – these people are putting others out of work so they can make a quick buck off a loophole in the patent laws.

On a somewhat similar note, how does patent trolling affect the consumer?

When companies have less money, they can't afford as much R&D, and that means new, more innovative and effective products can't be developed. It also means that they'll need to jack up prices on current products, to afford their legal bills, or switch to lower doses and less expensive raw materials. So patent trolling brings down the overall level of effective supplements in the marketplace, without question.

Now it's known that various medications are exclusive to a given company until the patents run out and one can buy the generic versions. That being said, do you know how long these trolls can hold the various supplement “hostages” before they expire?

I'm not sure about this one, actually.

On December 5th, 2013, the House of Representatives passed the Innovation Act in an effort to curtail patent trolling. If this clears through the senate and gets enacted, what type of an impact do you think it will have in the supplement industry? (For those interested, you can follow the bill here.)

That's a great question, but I can't answer it. We can look at a lot of examples de jure versus de facto, and see that as written, laws are not always representative of how they are ultimately practiced. We'll all have to wait and see.

Any final thoughts you'd like to share with us today about patent trolling or the supplement industry in general?

Ultimately, the consumer can take action here. Don't purchase anything produced by patent trolls, or the people who sell their patents to trolls. Don't purchase anything with an ingredient licensed by a troll. Boycott them. You can end this nonsense with your dollars in the marketplace, and instead of waiting for some bill to pass, you can tell companies that you're not going to support trolls.

On behalf of the CasePerformance community, I would like to thank you for joining us here today. I realize it takes time to answer these questions and your time is appreciated. Before I let you go though, besides the Romano & Roberts website, where can people find you?

I'm on Twitter (anthonyroberts, steroidtimes) & Facebook . I'm much more active on the latter. People can friend me or follow me or whatever, and I'm generally pretty good about responding to people's messages.

Also, for those looking to read more on patent trolling, I refer you to the article Patent Trolls Strike Supplements written by Erica Stump & Anthony Almada.

Reference

1 John Bauer. On the middle of the floor there was an open treasure chest and with two horrible trolls sitting. 1909. Accessed April 21, 2014 from:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mitt_p%C3%A5_golvet_stod_en_%C3%B6ppen_kista_och_sutto_tv%C3%A5_f%C3%B6rskr%C3%A4ckliga_troll.jpg

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Written on April 21, 2014 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: April 24, 2014

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.

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