Paul Allen Relaunches Tech Patent Suit, Targets Facebook, Google, Apple iTunes, Yahoo And Others

December 30, 2010 0

New York — Billionaire, Microsoft Corp co-founder “Paul Allen” yesterday refiled a last-minute revision of a patent infringement lawsuit against 11 popular tech companies namely: Apple Inc., Google Inc., Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo and others, which includes specific allegations of patent violation.

The suit argues that the named tech companies have infringed on four patents Interval owns, and presented detailed claims that targeted Google’s Android operating system, Apple’s iTunes and App Store and Facebook’s “Like” feature, according to an article published by the Associated Press.

Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, refiled the suit through his company, Interval Licensing LLC, a small research company set in 1992. The revised suit claims it owns patents from research and technology developed by the billionaire’s former company, Interval Research in the 1990s, amassing more than 300 patents and providing research assistance to Google.

The revised complaint, which was obtained by the Seattle Times, was posted to the federal court system’s database early Wednesday.

Allen initially filed the suit in August in U.S. District Court in Seattle. But two weeks ago, the lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, on grounds that the charges were too vague and that its “allegations are insufficient to put Defendants ‘on notice’ as to what [they] must defend.” In her ruling, Pechman gave Allen until December 28 to revise the suit with the necessary specifics. Allen’s legal team labeled the judge’s ruling a “procedural issue” and said it would meet the deadline, which it did just in time.

In the lawsuit, Allen’s company claims four of its patents — that Interval Licensing company – holds “cover fundamental web technologies first developed at Interval Research in the 1990s, which the company believes are being infringed by major e-commerce and web search companies.”

Allen’s original August lawsuit claimed 11 companies — AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo and YouTube — violated four patents developed by Internal Research, a Palo Alto, Calif. research lab Allen funded in 1992. The lab pulled down its shutters in 2000, but later transferred the patents to Interval Licensing, a patent-holding company also owned by Allen.

The modified complaint details specific products, services, and technologies offered or used by the defendants, according to a Wall Street Journal article. The new 35-page complaint lists a diversifying range of online services — and desktop and Web software — that allegedly violate those patents.

According to Interval’s lawsuit, which claims that the companies are violating on patents dealing with the way movies, news stories and other related content are displayed on websites, as well as computer programs and websites which send alerts to a user “without disturbing their main activity on the computer, unobtrusively and off to the side,” the article stated.

“Devices containing the Android Operating System and associated software infringe by displaying information including, e.g., text messages, Google Voice messages, chat messages, and calendar events, to a user of a mobile device in an unobtrusive manner,” claimed the lawsuit.

As an example, the suit asserts that Apple uses a function developed at and patented by Interval Research that compares content items to determine whether they are related. This function is used in a variety of Apple products, including iTunes, Apple’s App Store, and Apple TV, the Journal said. Furthermore, the claim against Google cites that it infringes on Patent 6,034,652 by “making, using, selling, distributing, and encouraging customers to use devices containing the Android Operating System and associated software such as Text Messaging, Google Talk, Google Voice, Calendar, Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps, and other features.”

The four patents that Allen alleges have been violated are:

  • No. 6,263,507, “Browser for use in navigating a body of information, with particular application to browsing information represented by audiovisual data.”
  • 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, “Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device e.”
  • No. 6,757,682, “Alerting users to items of current interest.”

Other applications and services that allegedly violated Interval’s patents include Apple’s iTunes music store, App Store, Apple TV and Ping social networking service; Google’s search, its AdSense targeted text advertisements, and its Talk, Reader and Gmail software; Facebook’s “Like” and “News Feed” features; Netflix’s TV and movie recommendations; and Yahoo Connected TV and Widgets.

Interval has appealed that Pechman bar the companies from further infringement — which, if granted, might require the firms to shutter the named services and stop distributing the identified software until changes were made — and that the defendants be required to pay damages to be decided by a jury.

Allen, 57, is the world’s 37th richest person, according to Forbes magazine. He stepped down as a Microsoft executive in 1983. Since then, he has financed scientific and medical research through his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and invested in many projects in his native Seattle and Pacific Northwest region.

“We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously,” a Facebook spokesman said in an e-mail.

EBay declined to comment. AOL, Apple, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, Staples and Yahoo did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.

The case is C10-1385 MJP in the U.S District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle. Below is a copy of the amended suit:

Paul Allen vs. Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay, AOL, Netflix, Yahoo, Google’s YouTube, OfficeMax, Office Depo…