Building today’s high-tech homes takes increasing skill, but beneath the new gadgets and fancy finishes, the fundamentals haven’t changed in generations.
But one technique, used for decades, is now being targeted by a patent troll — and experts say this could impact the entire construction industry.
Justin Wood is an Oregon contractor who’s been targeted for doing what he’s always done: using dehumidifiers and fans to remove moisture from wood to dry a home’s wooden frame.
“This is as simple as you have a wet house, you go in there [and] you put moisture dehumidifiers in it to dry out the house. After you do that, you check again, if it’s dry, you’re done,” Wood says. “To most of us in the industry that feels like a concept that most people think is just common sense.”
It may be common practice but it is now a process “owned” by Savannah IP, Inc.
According to letters the company has sent to dozens of contractors, drying a home’s frame is now their patented intellectual property. The firm is asking contractors for as much as $150 for each building permit.
After receiving one of these letters, Wood contacted Jim Rizzo, who represents the National Association of Home Builders.
“When I had seen letters of this type in the past, they involved some hyper technical, very sophisticated technology,” noted Rizzo. “This is a method patent involving the moisture removal process during home construction. When you look at the patent itself, it’s not hyper technical nor sophisticated.”
Rizzo sees the firm as nothing more than a patent troll taking advantage of a simple process that is required by law to be done, and what may seem like a relatively minor sum can become large.
“Getting a letter like this can really have an impact on my business,” Wood forewarns, “This patent is a hundred and fifty dollars a home. That starts to add up when you are building twenty homes a year.”
Justin’s firm decided to fight back.
“We figured that our best course of action to protect ourselves was to talk to our local attorney here that covers us on issues, and so after talking with him in figuring out that it really was a true patent, that’s when we determined to respond back to the letter with a letter of our own claiming that we did not feel we are infringing on its patents.”
If so-called patent trolls like this one are allowed to continue, the impact nationally with millions of construction permits issued each year, could be in the multiple millions of dollars.
The cost of drying out the frame is just another toll that homebuilders will have to pay to lawyers who are eager to cash in.