This one’s a doozy even by patent troll standards. A shell company that is already suing Apple (s aapl) and Nokia (s nok) over a common autocomplete feature is now branching out to file dozens of new patent claims against online video firms and retailers.
In complaints filed in Delaware last week, Data Carriers LLC claims that Yelp (s yelp), LinkedIn (s lnkd), Target, Wal-Mart (s wmt), Netflix (s nflx) and others infringed US Patent 5,388,198 for “Proactive presentation of automating features to a computer user.”
In plain English, Data Carriers is saying it owns a feature in which a user enters a few letters and the rest of the word appears. Consumers use the feature all the time in cell phones, websites or on movie selection menus like the one used by Netflix.
Apple and others are fighting the claims. After it was sued in March for including autocomplete in its iPhone, iPad and Safari browser, Apple asked a court to throw the case out because Data Carriers had pled only “legal boilerplate” not facts.
Overall, the dozens of autocomplete cases are yet another example of the spread of patent trolls. Trolls, more politely known as non-practicing entities, don’t make anything tangible but instead make a business of amassing patents in order to sue companies that do. They are hard to stop because, as shell companies, they are not vulnerable to counter claims. A new study says they are costing the economy $29 billion a year.
Richard Kirk, the lawyer for Data Carriers, is also representing another troll who last week sued Facebook (s fb) and Amazon (s amzn) or using the common data storage system, Hadoop. Contacted by GigaOM, Kirk refused to say who is paying for the patent trolls to pursue their legal campaign.
The autocomplete patent was originally issued in 1995 to software maker Symantec (s symc) which transferred it earlier this year. It’s unclear if Symantec is tied to Data Carriers or if it sold the autocomplete patent outright.
Here’s a copy of the complaint against Netflix: