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Summary:

A greedy patent troll that has already bagged Apple and Cisco is heading back to Texas to demand Facebook and others pay up for including a spam filter in their email systems.

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photo: Flickr / Jacob Bøtter

A greedy patent troll that has already bagged Apple, Cisco and many other Silicon Valley firms is heading back to Texas to demand Facebook and others pay up for including a spam filter in their email systems.

The company first made headlines in 2010 when it sued 36 companies over US Patent 6018761, claiming that “E-mail as we know it would essentially stop working if it weren’t for [the] invention.” Like others of its ilk, the firm has a name — “InNova” — that conveys technology even though it is just a shell company that does nothing but file lawsuits.

The patent itself was issued in 2000, four years before Facebook launched, and covers a “System for Adding to Electronic Mail Messages Information Obtained from Sources External to the Electronic Mail Transport Process.” The new lawsuit accuses the social network of:

using … electronic-message filtering products and/or services that embody the inventions claimed in the ’761 patent, including but not limited to Facebook Email and all reasonably similar products.

Court records show that most of InNova’s 2010 victims, including Apple, Yahoo and HP have thrown in the towel and settled, while Google and AOL continue to dig in. Now, in addition to Facebook, the companies new roster of targets includes Microsoft, Lycos, eBay and Comcast.

Palo Alto lawyer Christopher Banys is leading the new cases and, as before, the litigation is taking place in Marshall, Texas which has a reputation for plaintiff-friendly juries who enjoy sticking it to technology companies. Banys will be working with Texas firm Ward & Smith which recently hired T. John Ward, a former federal judge who established East Texas as a leading patent venue. The firm was founded by Ward’s son, noted patent troll lawyer T. John “Johnny” Ward Jr.

The new lawsuits comes at a time of growing frustration with the patent system. A famous judge who is presiding over a dispute between Apple and Google recently called the patent system “dysfunctional” while thought leaders in Silicon Valley are calling to end software patents altogether.

Here’s a copy of the complaint against Facebook:

Innova v Facebook

  1. “Jeff previously worked for Reuters in New York and Paris, and practiced intellectual property and media law. ” Interesting commentary given your background. Every build anything original? Why is it bad for a company that has a patent to collect royalities – and more so given their rights have been upheld in a court of law. The veracity of your Oracle/Google lawsuit obscures its irrelevance to this case.

    I guess when you become a BLLLOGGER you loose all sense of reality.

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    1. G, I don’t have problems with patents per se. But I think we have to keep in mind what they are — artificial, government sanctioned monopolies that are awarded as a form of industrial policy. They are intended to stimulate innovation but cases like this one show the system has broken down. This is not innovation but simply lawyers gaming a system that awards too many patents.

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      1. I second that JJR!

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    2. You don’t seem to know what a patent troll is.

      Also, you need to learn how to spell lose.

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  2. patents are only as strong as the challenges they’ve stood up to (and out-of-court settlements do NOT count.)

    as for the patent system, it’s an open joke. it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. if you don’t know what I mean, read the referenced patent (or the patents it cites). they’re all completely obvious crap, and should never have been issued. but since the patent office just punts in favor of the real examination occurring in later litigation…

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  3. Ken Simpson Friday, June 22, 2012

    The patent is bullshit – basically it’s the idea of taking someone’s email address or other header information, and using this to look up context information about the sender in an external database. How is that novel, exactly? Also, why is Facebook violating this? Can someone please point out where Facebook is receiving email messages and looking up the sender’s context in an external database — with the intended meaning of context as defined in the patent?

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