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Ailing patent troll targets Facebook and Wal-Mart, claims to own web

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Even after Amazon (s amzn) and Google (s goog) put two bullets into its head earlier this year, overgrown patent troll Eolas is stumbling forward with new lawsuits against Facebook (s fb), Wal-Mart (s wmt) and Disney (s dis).

Eolas is a shell company that had been stomping around the country demanding companies pay it to use basic technology that lets users “interact” with the web. It suffered what looked like a fatal blow earlier this year when Amazon and other Eolas targets persuaded a Texas jury that two of its patents were invalid.

Nonetheless, Eolas has dusted itself off and filed new claims based on the same patents plus two more that are offshoots from the original patent issued in 1998. That patent, which can be seen here, is entitled “Distributed hypermedia method for automatically invoking external application providing interaction and display of embedded objects within a hypermedia document.”

Eolas’ legal rampage led the man regarded as the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, to testify in February that its patents should be invalid.

The troll’s activities have also proved controversial because the University of California has been its partner in the patent lawsuits. A spokesperson told Reuters, which was first to report the Facebook suit, that the school considered the patents public assets and that it “should be paid a fair value when a third party exploits that university asset for profit.”

Lawyers for McKool Smith, the firm representing the troll, didn’t return requests for comment. The law firm, which has won hundreds of millions in Texas troll cases through commissions of up to 40 percent, has seen its fortunes turn in the last year.

A Wall Street Journal story last month quoted a lawyer who said McKool Smith may now have to survive on a stream of trout rather than big marlins.

Here’s the Facebook case:

Eolas v Facebook

5 Responses to “Ailing patent troll targets Facebook and Wal-Mart, claims to own web”

  1. twospruces

    well, you can’t fault a publicly funded institution for trying to lessen your tax bill by commercializing research. Does that make universities trolls too? What if someone stole the original research and made loads of cash without recognizing the public contribution to the research via a license?

    Do universities contribute to society?

    • twospruces, the litigation and other transaction costs related to the trolling operation likely exceed any financial benefits to the university. And this doesn’t even take account of barriers to basic research that patents can create

      Yes, universities contribute to society and, yes, commercializing research is a good thing. But neither of those things excuse patent trolling

      • twospruces

        the high costs of litigation are precisely why universities have to seek third parties with wallets. without what you call trolls, university IP would get steamrolled. i believe you would call university patenting and licensing the same as trolling.

        There is nothing wrong with patent holders using the available tools to monetize the IP. The problem is in the front end, not the back.

        There will always be abuses of IP rights. You need to step away from the keyboard and live for a while in the inventor role whose rights get trampled by self interested developers. Balance is important.

  2. Why would you refer to the company as “troll”? Ifyou are going to do that, the least you can do for fairness is call all phone companies trolls as well and refer to Apple as king of trolls.

    • Thanks for your comment, Rosan. I think the distinguishing feature of a troll is that it has no other business beyond patent litigation. While Apple and the phone companies have certainly been aggressive with their patents, they at least contribute something useful to the country.