Project Paperless, LLC is a Virginia-based limited liability company. According to 2012 records at the Virgina State Corporation Commission, Project Paperless, LLC is headquartered in a two bedroom condo in Alexandria, Virginia. Tax records indicate that this condo is owned by a DC patent attorney, a former associate at the Atlanta law firm of Hill, Kertscher & Wharton. Project Paperless LLC’s Articles of Organization shows that the organizer of the LLC is Lucas Geren, who is currently an attorney at the Atlanta law firm of Hill, Kertscher & Wharton.
Our research could not find any significant assets, employees, or operations for Project Paperless, LLC. If true, Project Paperless, LLC would be a shell company. Project Paperless, LLC’s business seems to be acquiring patents related to copiers/scanners and bringing patent infringement claims, against a multitude of small businesses that use network scanners. These companies have limited resources to fight a patent claim and therefore most agree to settle out of court for what may be tens of thousands of dollars each. Shell companies that make nothing, have no customers, provide little of value to society, and procure patents with the sole objective of making money by prosecuting other companies with infringement lawsuits have been referred to as patent trolls.
The patent troll business model is to make a multiple return on their patent investment. That’s tough to do if you are fighting the big boys and don’t have much ammunition. So Steven Hill cleaverly avoids the wrath of the billion-dollar copier industry by explicitly stating that the device itself is not infringing. According to Hill’s theory the combination of the scanner AND the network is a “data management system” and it is the combination that violates his patent. In this way, Steven G. Hill can go after smaller companies that are big enough to pay significant dollars for a licensing but that cannot afford to fight. He wants to get these companies to quickly settle out of court – minimizing his cost and risk while maximizing profit. Hill even offers easy payment terms. His targets have been offered to spread the fee for Project Paperless LLC (Hill, Kertscher & Wharton) over several years. Hill is making it as easy as possible to settle with Project Paperless LLC. But what happens to the money that these companies pay. Is it funneled back into R&D to create new products for society or does it go to line the pockets of the attorneys? To answer that we ask the following question…
Who Owns Project Paperless LLC?
According to financial disclosure required by the courts when lawsuits are filed, Project Paperless, LLC appears to be owned not by individuals, but by another layer of LLC companies: PCB Intellectual Properties, LLC; Renaissance Group IP Holdings, LLC; Wexford Holdings LLC; Bonita Sunrise LLC; and Mobile Micromedia Solutions, LLC. Several of these companies appear to be owned and/or managed by one or more members of the Atlanta law firm of Hill, Kertscher, & Wharton. Based on public documents, the following diagram shows relationships between Project Paperless LLC, the Law Firm of Hill Kertscher & Wharton, and several of these LLCs. This shell within a shell game is not uncommon because is can be used to protect personal assets, allocate profits, and obfuscate financial relationships which lawyers can easily hide beneath private LLC documents.
Hill, Kertscher, and Wharton and Project Paperless, LLC
Public records indicate that each of the partners in the law firm of Hill, Kertscher, & Wharton are either managers, members, or organizers in one or more of the shell companies which in turn appear to have a stake in Project Paperless, LLC. In some sense, the attorneys would appear to be their own client. If so, they make money not just in the legal fees they are charging to Project Paperless LLC, but also in the settlement money that goes to Project Paperless, LLC. These settlement fees can be tens of thousands of dollars per company. With a limitless supply of small businesses unable to fight against an infringement patent lawsuit and forced economically to settle out of court, Project Paperless LLC may be a virtual gold mine for Steven G. Hill, Douglas R. Kertscher, and Scott A. Wharton. Better than a gold mine – as all the digging is done with just a letter and a few phone calls.