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