Vermont has become the first state in the nation to file a so-called "patent troll" lawsuit, taking action Wednesday against a company that has written to a number of businesses claiming patents to technology that attaches scanned documents to e-mails over company computer networks.

State Attorney General William Sorrell’s suit seeks a permanent injunction against MPHJ Technology Investments LLC for demanding about $1,000 per employee to purchase licenses for use of its patents. Those that didn’t respond received follow-up letters threatening litigation in federal court. Recipients included two nonprofits that provide social services for the developmentally disabled.

"As you can imagine, most businesses, upon being informed that they are infringing someone’s patent rights, are interested in operating lawfully and taking a license promptly," one of MPHJ’s letters said, according to the complaint. "Many companies have responded to this licensing program in such a manner. Their doing so has allowed us to determine that a fair price for a license negotiated in good faith and without the need for court action is payment of [$900 - $1,200] per employee."

Sorrell alleged that MPHJ used misleading and deceptive language in asserting the validity of its patents in violation of state consumer protection law. The suit noted that MPHJ operated through 40 shell companies, which could shield it from paying fees and costs in the event its letter’s recipients prevail in litigation.

Sorrell also asserted that MPHJ sent the letters without evidence that its recipients were infringing patents. He alleged that MPHJ never intended to file suit against the companies it threatened and that it had targeted small businesses that were unlikely to have the resources to fight patent litigation.

Bryan Farney, a lawyer for Georgetown, Texas-based Farney Daniels who represents MPHJ, denied Sorrell’s allegations. "The client doesn’t believe it’s made any deceptive statements and the allegations we just don’t think are accurate," he said in an interview.

While millions of people who scan documents to e-mail or file upload services via local area networks likely are infringing MPHJ’s patents, Farney said, the company targeted professional-services firms in its enforcement efforts since they benefit most from scanning and uploading documents. He said that letters to groups that help the disabled likely were sent in error due to mistakes in categorizing what types of businesses they are.

The scanning patents are the only ones owned by MPHJ, which obtained them a year ago from an Atlanta company, he said.

The suit came on the same day that Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin was slated to sign a new state law making it easier for companies to sue patent owners that make bad-faith allegations of patent infringement.

This article originally appeared in The National Law Journal.