Paul Allen Sues Apple, Google, Facebook and Others
Paul Allen seems to be choosing to exert his dominance over the digital domain. He recently filed a lawsuit claiming many big names companies of today are infringing upon patents Allen holds through Interval Research. The Seattle Times has the full story.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen today filed a lawsuit against many of the biggest names in tech, alleging they're infringing on patents obtained by Interval Research, a venture Allen and Xerox veteran David Liddle started in 1992.
Interval's research generated about 300 patents, four of which are the basis of the suit. The group operated in Palo Alto, growing to more than 100 researchers, until it was shuttered in 2000.
Named as defendents are Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay, AOL, Netflix, Yahoo, Google's YouTube, OfficeMax, Office Depot and Staples.
Most of the companies declined to comment, but Facebook said the suit's without merit and a Google spokesperson said it's part of an "unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace."
If Allen is successful, he could go after additional companies, seeking royalties for Interval patents that touch on much of the current Web experience.
One of the patents in the suit lays claim to the concept of automatically showing related information on a website, so people viewing a news story online could be presented with related stories, for instance.
"The invention enables some or all of a body of information to be skimmed quickly, enabling a quick overview of the content of the body of information to be obtained," states a 2001 patent for "browser for use in navigating body of information." "The invention also enables quick identification of information that pertains to a particular subject."
Allen has already tried to make money with that concept, starting a company called Evri, which developed a widget that media sites could embed into their sites and generate clusters of related stories.
It's unclear at this point how Allen sought to license the technology. Asked whether the lawsuit follows attempts to negotiate licensing deals with the named companies, Allen's spokesman David Postman said, "The defendants were informed that we had patents of interest."
The belated pursuit of compensation for research conducted more than a decade ago puts Allen at risk of being labeled a patent troll. Postman characterized the move as "part of an ongoing process for years to monetize that portfolio."
"Other patents were licensed to other people," Postman said. "Now we're to the point of reviewing that portfolio and seeing at the same time if technology in the marketplace has caught up to where Interval was. It's clear that these patents cover a variety of key processes in search and e-commerce. We're to the point where litigation is the next step on that."
Within Allen's circle of billionaire Microsoft veterans is Nathan Myhrvold, who started a Bellevue company called Intellectual Ventures that collects patents and makes money charging licensing fees. Bill Gates is invested in the group and helping with its research.
Intellectual Ventures' rise contributed to the debate over reforming the U.S. patent system and raised questions about how much the system encourages innovation vs. enriching license holders.