The joint founder of Microsoft Paul Allen filed in August 2010 a suit pertaining to patent infringement against about twelve big technology companies including Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Apple. The suit was filed in the federal court of Seattle by Interval Licensing LLC (Interval Research's part). The firm was founded in Allen together with David Liddle; it is now defunct. The patents being questioned are "fundamental to the ways that leading e-commerce and search companies operate today" said a spokesperson of Allen, David Postman, in one statement.
Coming under the cover of patents are technologies that had been developed by Interval Research during the 90s. The company states that mega e-commerce and web searching firms are now infringing on these. The companies named are "YouTube, Yahoo, Staples, OfficeMax, OfficeDepot, Netflix, Google, Facebook, eBay, Apple and AOL" (Destiny 2011). The portfolio of Interval includes 300 patents. The case is concerned with four patents.
The first one is about "browser for use in navigating a body of information" (Lundberg 2010). The application of the patent gives the description of a tool that would be able to "quickly review a body of information" (Albanesius 2010) similar to stories, news etc and be able to locate the items relating to any particular topic. Patents number two and three refer to an "attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device" (Albanesius 2010).
The application of the patent basically describes a computer-wallpaper or screen-saver that would be useful in displaying required information and not just the logo of Microsoft or the photograph of a loved one. As per the suit Yahoo, Google, Apple and AOL violated the above patents. Meanwhile the fourth patent covers a know-how that could be used to alert "users to items of current interest" (Albanesius 2010). It seems quite comprehensive and that is the most likely reason why all these 11 firms are being accused of violation of that patent in particular.
David Postman, the spokesperson of Allen, said that Interval Research had been one of the pioneering contributors to the growth of the Internet-economy. Interval had put in a lot of effort to introduce the technologies into the market "through spinning off new companies, technology transfer arrangements and sales of its patented technology" (Woollacott 2010). Postman stressed that this legal suit was essential for protection of the investments made in innovations. No assertion is being made on patents other companies have filed; neither was they purchasing patents that were originally given to some other concern. These patents were developed by Interval and for Interval. The damages that Allen is seeking were not specified.
Currently Allen is the head of Vulcan Inc of Seattle and the founder-chairperson of the board for Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Last month he announced that he would leave the bulk of his assets for the cause of philanthropy. The patent case was dismissed by a district judge of Washington in 2010 December. A spokesperson of Paul Allen said that his team thinks the move to be "procedural matter" (Albanesius 2010); appeal will be made against the decision.
Allen was unable to comprehensibly explain how firms like Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Yahoo were violating his patents, said Judge Marsha J. Pechman while deciding. She added that the complaint of Allen "is little more than labels and conclusions" (Albanesius 2010). Pechman further referred to the legal suit of Allen as "Spartan". It was too bare. More information and details were necessary and hence the use of the term "Spartan". She said that the courts as well as the defendants are allowed to make their own guesses as to which of the devices violate the four patents of Allen.
It only indicates that the defendants have hardware, software and websites that "infringe on the patents" (Albanesius 2010) or that third parties are encouraged to make use of products "that infringe on the patents" (Albanesius 2010). This does not make it clear to the defendants which of their many products or tools may be at the root of the issue. The matter remains vague. It appears that the legal team of Allen asked the court to be patient and to "simply await delivery of the infringement contentions" (Albanesius 2010). The judge however did not wait and granted the defending firms the motion of dismissing the case.
Speaking on behalf of Allen David Postman said that the case was continuing and that they would be filing soon an amendment complaint. Postman went on to add that they saw it as a matter of procedure as the dismissal of original complaint referred to the specific degree expected in a complaint. The judge had concentrated to two recent decisions taken by the Supreme Court of USA. It had stated that in cases relating to non-patent matter the 'notice pleading' (Albanesius 2010) practice was no longer adequate as per the Civil Procedure of Federal Rule; it meant allegations of high levels having details to be given in the subsequent filings. The argument of the defendants was that these cases should be applicable to patent cases also; the judge had agreed.
Both the parties would be appearing again for conferencing that had been previously scheduled and set. Judge Pechman said that the team of Allen has been given fifteen days time from the meeting on Monday to submit an amended complaint. In this filing Allen would have to identify which specific products of the firm, tools or schemes had infringed the patents.
The judge wrote that Allen should, wherever it can, mention in details the particular websites that are being talked about and locate the software as well as the hardware with sufficient detail so that the defendants know which portions of their business functioning are involved in this legal case. The judge added that wherever possible the court is urging Allen to "identify the infringing hardware and software with any relevant product identifiers and descriptions" (Albanesius 2010). In other words the judge told Allen to rewrite his legal strategy. Without the details the specific points of infringement could not be located. These have to be submitted so that the defendants can understand where they have been overstepping their limits.
Paul Allen seems to have rushed into litigation without doing his homework; he has not been well guided by his lawyers because Patent lawsuits are best filed in East Texas and not in Washington. East Texas is noted for its "rocket docket" procedure. The original complaint was vacated because it was too vague as there were no solid examples pointing to the infringements. Experienced lawyers opine that in East Texas, Allen would not have been stopped for this. However his new lawsuit is more explicit. The problem is that patent nuances might well be too complicated for some juries to handle; but Allen wants a jury trial.
If Allen is so obsessed with intellectual property then why everyone shouldn't be made to pay for a license. Why is he selecting these few? This sort of money-grabbing will finish off programmers and software professionals because they will feel frightened about stumbling into another's zone inadvertently - something someone started but never developed. It would stifle growth. Patent banking needs to be outlawed.
When last August Allen decided to become a patent troll by making use of a group of patents he had got when his business - Interval Research, failed, many people were surprised. Interval's goal was to make commercial whatever flowed out of the laboratories. But it did not do anything but down shutters. Many years afterwards Allen surfaces and begins to sue dozens of firms for broad patent infringements. Although the case was dismissed Allen will go on trying and make himself even more ridiculous. Allen to his credit has a long list of failures in business ventures since he left Microsoft. Interval was shut down in 2000. That was the last people heard of it until its name has suddenly popped up again today.
Basically Allen seems to have sued the entire Internet community. He is running after nearly a dozen IT firms for infringing patents. He has charged them for using technology that his firm had created. The four patents involved relate to the most obvious characteristics of the innumerable sites - describing ways of presenting information to the customers while the latter browse the web. It is so broad that the majority of the defendants have not responded but a spokesperson of Google said that the suit highlights the unfortunate tendency of some people trying to bring competition into the courtroom instead of facing up to it in the market place.