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Summary:

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen has refiled his patent lawsuit against 11 big internet companies and e-retailers, and the new c…

Paul Allen
photo: NBA

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) co-founder Paul Allen has refiled his patent lawsuit against 11 big internet companies and e-retailers, and the new complaint details just how broad Allen’s claim to basic internet functionality is. In a 35-page amended complaint [PDF] filed Tuesday, Allen’s lawyers detail how certain functions that are widely used in digital media-acts as simple as suggesting related links, offering various forms of “alerts,” or making suggestions of related products for purchase-stand accused of infringing the four patents Allen has used in this lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of *Interval* Licensing, a patent-holding company set up to file lawsuits based on patents that were originally filed in the 1990s by *Interval* Research, a laboratory funded by Allen that closed its doors in 2000. Eleven companies stand accused of infringing Paul Allen’s patent rights: AOL (NYSE: AOL), Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), eBay (NSDQ: EBAY), Facebook, Google, Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX), Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG).

The suit was originally filed in August, but U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman dismissed the first complaint as insufficiently detailed. A spokesman for Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc., declined to comment on the refiled lawsuit. When the suit was first filed in August, Allen spokesman David Postman said that the patents cover “a variety of key processes in e-commerce.” He added that “*Interval* Research was early – and right – on key pieces of the Internet… it’s important now to protect that investment.”

The amended complaint names the exact functionalities of these 11 companies’ web services that Allen says infringe inventions created by his employees at *Interval* Research that had patents filed on them between 1996 and 2000. The lawsuit now includes more than 30 screen shots, attached as exhibits, which outline the allegedly infringing features.

To call the accused features “widely used” web publishing functions would be an understatement. If patent claims on such basic ideas are found to be valid, there are surely hundreds of other potential defendants that could be sued by *Interval* Licensing. Paul Allen would be essentially a tax collector for the internet.

Allen and his lawyers are asking for damages, as well as an injunction that either shuts down the services or forces the defendants to pay Allen an ongoing royalty to continue using them.

The digital media features Allen says were patented by Interval:

»  Related Links: All 11 defendant companies are accused of infringing this patent, which Allen’s lawyers say covers all these companies’ methods of making product or reading suggestions to users. Allen is demanding money from AOL News, Yahoo Finance and Google Finance for simply showing users links to “Related News” – a feature that is ubiquitous in the digital news industry, and used by a wide variety of websites (including this one.) Both AOL and Yahoo have dozens of individual services that Allen claims infringe this patent. Yahoo’s News, Sports, Alerts, Entertainment, Groups, Travel, and Weather services, along with Flickr and more than 30 other Yahoo services, all are said to infringe this patent.

As for the other defendants: eBay, Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Staples all show users links to “related products,” which qualify as infringements. Similarly, when users browse through videos on YouTube, photos on Facebook, or songs on iTunes, they’re shown suggestions of more songs, videos, or photos to look at-all of which are said to infringe *Interval* Licensing patents.

»  Alerts: Two patents relate to a way of displaying “alerts,” or in the language of the patents, “displaying information to a user in an unobtrusive manner that occupies the peripheral attention of the user.” In other words, sending an alert about something that might be interesting-like the fact that someone has a new email or text message- but not taking up the whole screen to do it. Accused systems range from text message alerts on Android phones, to Google Desktop alerts, to pop-up alerts on AOL instant messenger that show when your friends are online. These two patents-the ‘652 patent and the ‘314 patent-are only being used against AOL, Apple, Google, and Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO).

»  Recommendations: All 11 companies are said to infringe this patent, which describes collecting “indications” from users showing that they’re interested in a certain piece of online content, and then making recommendations of additional products, or content that those users might be interested in, based on those indications. That means that according to Interval’s lawyers, systems as diverse as Facebook’s “like” button, Apple’s new Ping service, and Netflix’s suggestions of “Movies You’ll Love” all infringe Allen’s patents.

*Interval* Licensing v. AOL et al. First Amended Complaint [PDF] | Exhibits 1-16 [PDF] | Exhibits 17-40 [PDF]

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  1. Even Billionairs can act like an idiot, or asshole. Maybe I should patent the concept of “and”.

  2. Yet another illustration that our patent system is broken

  3. What a joke. Industrial Operator Interfaces / HMI’s used in plant automation systems had these loosely termed functionalities in the mid 80’s on DOS based systems, well before he filed the patents.

  4. Peter O’toole Thursday, December 30, 2010

    Sounds like he has gone crazy. His lawyers should be brought up on ethics charges if they feel this is a ridiculous lawsuit with no possible chance of success and is frivolous.

  5. I used to work for a very large CPU maker and created a number of patents there. I had frank discussions with the patent lawyers assigned to me about how broken the U.S. Patent Office is. For a company with the time and bucks getting any patent through, no matter how absurd, was just about 100% guaranteed. I don’t consider the specific ones I worked on to be absurd at all, btw . Basically, the patent agents have a strict regimen they follow and are only allowed a certain amount of time on each one. Thus, if the patent lawyer simply pushes hard, re-submits, etc., he/she eventually gets it approved.

  6. There’s just no words for this idiot. Total greed.

  7. What a dick.

    “a browser for use in navigating a body of information, with particular application to browsing information represented by audiovisual data,”

    That “patent” right there should be on the poster for patent law reform.

    I would love to punch Allen right in his f’ed up horse teeth.

  8. Part deux: Let me add that companies like the one I worked for were not patent mills like Mr. Allen’s company. They typically try to develop as many patents as possible for defensive purposes, not to milk royalties out of other companies. Should some other company accuse another company of patent infringement then the sued company can reach into its bin of granted patents and probably find a number of them that the suing company could be said to be violating. Then ensues negotiations. :)

  9. Reminds me all too painfully of the Gordon Gould/ Patlex laser patent fiasco where the entire laser industry was retroactively held hostage by these guys for many many millions back in the 80’s. Be afraid if this happens again, it’ll mess up everything!!!

  10. Maybe since Microsoft he has been burning through those billions of dollars faster than planned and needs to replenish his bank account…..

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