Paul Allen Refiles Lawsuit, Says He Patented ‘Related Links’

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]