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Patent lawsuit du jour: Paul Allen versus the world (but not Microsoft or Amazon)

Stop me if you've read this before: A tech company you've never heard of, with no record of selling innovative new products to customers, has filed a sweeping lawsuit against a line-up of name-brand tech firms for allegedly infringing on its patents.

A month ago, the patent plaintiff was NTP, the obscure Richmond firm that sued Apple, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft and Motorola over a set of patents covering wireless e-mail delivery.

Today, it's Interval Licensing LLC, a company set up by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen that filed suit Friday morning in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington against AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo and YouTube.

Interval's press release (note that this company, like NTP, doesn't have a Web site) says those 11 companies infringe on patents covering "fundamental web technologies first developed" at Allen's since-shuttered firm Interval Research in the 1990s. The lawsuit (ZDNet has a copy posted) does not request a specific sum of damages from those firms.

The four patents in question are titled "Browser for use in navigating a body of information, with particular application to browsing information represented by audiovisual data" (patent no. 6,263,507); "Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device" (no. 6,034,652); "Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device" (no. 6,788,314); and "Alerting users to items of current interest" (6,757,682).

Reading through the descriptions in those patents, it's not hard to find parallels between the claimed inventions in each and such automatically-generated Web interfaces as Google News's dispay of current headlines, Facebook's News Feed, the suggested downloads in Apple's iTunes Store, eBay's auction listings and YouTube's lists of related clips.

But you also can easily imagine examples from other companies that also would infringe on Interval's patents. How about the search listings at Microsoft's Bing site or Amazon's hints about what to buy next? And yet, as Todd Bishop noted in his excellent write-up on the TechFlash blog, Interval somehow neglected to sue Microsoft (which Allen co-founded) or Amazon (which occupies a set of buildings developed by Allen's Vulcan, Inc.).

If Interval's patents really are "fundamental to the ways that leading e-commerce and search companies operate today," as the press release declares, I trust we'll see Interval suing those two firms and a great many others.

But the company risks running into a different problem first: These patents, like many, appear to plug existing insights and innovations together. And if that combination could be considered obvious to somebody experienced in Web design, these patents should not have been issued in the first place, as per an overdue Supreme Court ruling that in 2007 reaffirmed the patent system's doctrine of "non-obviousness." Getting a patent overturned in court can take years, but Interval has just given some of the biggest tech companies in America an excellent reason to get their lawyers to work on challenging its patents.

Fortunately, those companies also can afford the legal bills. That may not be the case for many smaller Web sites. So at what point will the chief executives of America take a break from complaining about the "uncertainty" of Washington economic policy to notice the massive uncertainty created by an out-of-control patent system?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 27, 2010; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  Policy and politics  
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The hidden details about this lawsuit are on a censored and suppressed website, if you google "rock prophecy" you'll be amazed at what's behind this. His main aim is to dominate the internet specifically to erase every trace of Rock Prophecy online.

Like the gnostics two millennia ago, it is necessary to bury hard copies of the book in clay jars deep in the desert. The asteroid approaches to remove us all, as Mr. Allen retreats on private White Knight space craft to his condo aboard the Space Station, to watch us all perish below (what else did you expect from the ANTI-JIMI?) No joke.

Posted by: prophetjimi | August 27, 2010 9:33 PM | Report abuse

Read about another similar high-tech patent lawsuit scenario here:

Posted by: freighter | August 28, 2010 2:17 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: thomasmc1957 | August 28, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

@freighter: Your comment here seems to be the first time you've tried to share a link relevant to the post you're commenting on. Why don't you try doing that more often? You might find that people take you a little more seriously.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | August 28, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

The concepts described here have existed for years prior to the patent. The big difference was they weren’t in a browser; they were in Windows applications, dumb terminals, etc. Being in a browser just changes where it displayed the information. Well before the internet, there were dial-in systems, hosted systems and private LANs and WANs that offered this type of functionality. Even the ubiquitous MIS system (Management Information System) a term that is rarely used today. But back in the OLD days the primary purpose what to provide a number features that exist on the web today. Most were proprietary closed systems that used private news services that you had to subscribe to. But the functionality was the same. Microsoft sold one of the most popular tools for developing these types of systems on PCs, Visual Basic.

Library systems that ran on mainframes that allowed users to query information about books. Customer service systems used by sales people for order entry, but also used as a sales tool suggesting other items a customer may be interested purchasing in based various pieces of information. Stock systems used by brokers produced alerts for prices, news, and even suggestions of what a broker should sell a customer. Don’t forget Executive information systems, Artificial Intelligence systems, the list is long… This all seems like prior art from the 80’s being brought forward to browsers…

Posted by: 4ib2 | August 28, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

I suspect that someone like Paul Allen would not have filed this kind of patent infringement suit unless he thought he had a pretty good chance of winning. And, of course, he can afford top-notch legal counsel. So likely he's banking on the court using an obviousness standard for what was obvious at the time of the patent filings (mostly in the '90s, as I understand), not obviousness at the present time. My main question is, will Mr. Allen's pledge to give away most of his fortune apply to the (likely pretty hefty) damages if he prevails in this case?

Posted by: Gena777 | August 31, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

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