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“Instant” is the new thing in search. Google (NSDQ: GOOG) introduced search results that automatically update as a user types in September, and Bing is expected to do so soon. But like just about every other feature on the web-old or new-sooner or later someone comes along saying they’ve got a patent on it and asking for payments from the big internet companies. The latest to do so isn’t a classic “patent troll,” but rather a small software company, MasterObjects, which has sued Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) over the e-commerce giant’s own instant searching features.
Amazon’s feature is simply a type of auto-complete technology; it doesn’t actually feed users search results as they type, like Google Instant does, and instead suggests search terms that the user might have in mind. That auto-complete technology is also used by other large retailers, including Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), and content companies like The New York Times. So, MasterObjects may believe its patent is a license to litigate against a whole bunch of companies, and Amazon may be just the start.
The lawsuit says that MasterObjects founder Mark Smit invented search ‘suggestions’ back in 2000, and filed patent applications related to this area in 2001 and 2004. The patent that’s being cited in this lawsuit was filed in 2005, but claims priority to those earlier applications. Google launched an auto-suggest feature in 2004, Microsoft rolled out a similar feature in *Microsoft* Word 2003.
MasterObjects’ legal team is led by Spencer Hosie of the Hosie & Rice law firm, a lawyer who became something of a legend in the patent plaintiff’s bar after winning $60 million from Microsoft and $10 million from Apple on behalf of Burst.com.