With patent case shut, Hen­rico-based Ten­ant Turner looks for growth

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - STARTUP SPOTLIGHT - BY JOHN REID BLACK­WELL r m T m -d t TEN­ANT TURNER

With a nearly two-year le­gal cloud now cleared, Hen­rico County-based startup com­pany Ten­ant Turner is look­ing ahead to grow its busi­ness, even in un­cer­tain eco­nomic times.

The startup, founded in 2014 by James Bar­rett, Bran­don An­der­son and Chris Ste­wart, makes soft­ware to help prop­erty man­agers lease apart­ments and homes.

That in­cludes a tech­nol­ogy tool that Ten­ant Turner pro­vides to prop­erty man­agers so they can give prospec­tive ten­ants the abil­ity to ac­cess a lock­box and view prop­er­ties for lease, with­out the prop­erty man­ager or leas­ing agent hav­ing to be there.

“We have tens of thou­sands of elec­tronic locks and lock­boxes through­out the coun­try to­day, and we are see­ing an in­creased de­mand for key­less en­try,” said Bar­rett, the com­pany’s CEO.

The self-ac­cess con­cept was the source of the patent in­fringe­ment law­suit filed against Ten­ant Turner by Con­sumer 2.0 Inc., which does busi­ness as Rently, a com­peti­tor of Ten­ant Turner’s based in Los An­ge­les.

Rently filed suit against Ten­ant Turner on July 3, 2018, in U.S. District Court in Rich­mond, claim­ing in­fringe­ment of a patent that broadly cov­ered the con­cept of self-ac­cess to prop­er­ties.

The court dis­missed Rently’s com­plaint later in 2018 fol­low­ing oral ar­gu­ments and again in April 2019. Rently ap­pealed to the U.S. Court of Ap­peals in May 2019.

On March 9, the three­judge Court of Ap­peals unan­i­mously af­firmed the lower court’s dis­missal of the case. The court found the claims in Rently’s patent to be too ab­stract of a con­cept to be owned by a sin­gle en­tity, said Chris Ste­wart, Ten­ant Turner’s chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer.

“If the courts did not de­cide in our fa­vor, we would have had to pay a roy­alty to Rently to pro­vide self-ac­cess,” Bar­rett said. “Rently would have had a monopoly. We are ex­cited not just for our­selves, but for the folks in this in­dus­try who get to choose their ser­vice provider and not have to worry about one provider who has cre­ated a monopoly through a patent.”

Bar­rett said Ten­ant Turner’s busi­ness had been grow­ing any­way, but the rul­ing now frees the com­pany to more openly ad­ver­tise its ser­vice.

Ten­ant Turner is a grad­u­ate of Light­house Labs, a Rich­mond-based busi­ness ac­cel­er­a­tor that pro­vides men­tor­ing and eq­uity-free cap­i­tal for startup com­pa­nies. The startup also was the win­ner of what is now Cham­berRVA’s 2014 i.e. Startup Com­pe­ti­tion, tak­ing home a $10,000 grand prize. It also was a re­cip­i­ent of an in­vest­ment from

Vir­ginia’s Cen­ter for In­no­va­tive Tech­nol­ogy.

The founders of Ten­ant Turner also spent three months in Sil­i­con Val­ley in 2015 to be part of the highly re­garded Y Com­bi­na­tor pro­gram.

The com­pany has 10 em­ploy­ees and last year moved from Rich­mond’s Shockoe Bot­tom to a new of­fice in the Inns­brook Cor­po­rate Cen­ter in western Hen­rico.

The com­pany hired a sales pro­fes­sional about two weeks ago, but given the cur­rent eco­nomic down­turn, it prob­a­bly won’t do any hir­ing in April, Bar­rett said.

“We do look for­ward to hir­ing sev­eral more peo­ple as the year goes on,” he said.

Bran­don An­der­son (from left), James Bar­rett and Chris Ste­wart are the founders of Ten­ant Turner.

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