A California lawyer who claims to have invented a method 0f online auctions wants eBay(s ebay) to stop using an automated update function on its site, and is demanding the company hand over a portion of its profits.
In a patent suit filed in San Diego, the lawyer’s shell company, Advanced Auctions, claims eBay infringed on US Patent 8,266,000, which covers:
“a new paradigm for conducting an auction on a remote information server such as the Internet .. [the] invention recognizes that the standard model of Internet auctions is actually flawed. Auctions should be carried out more like a real live auction.”
The patent, which confers a 20 year monopoly, goes on to explain how users can receive a phone message, email or “alphanumeric page” during the “end game” phase of the auction to let them know they can keep bidding. The invention includes diagrams like this one:
The patent is also larded with nonsense legalese such as, “said computer producing second information as part of said information representing a webpage, said second information having a first parameter indicative of an ending time for said electronic auction.”
The eBay lawsuit could provide more fodder for critics of America’s troubled patent system, especially as the patent owner, Scott Harris, is already notorious for once running a website called “ImAPatentTroll.com” and for allegedly helping to sue clients from his former law firm.
It’s unclear if Harris filed the suit in hopes of collecting from eBay, or if the suit is instead part of a strategic effort to intimate smaller companies that offer online auction services.
Harris’s suit comes at a time that patent trolls are drawing increased attention from mainstream media. This weekend, the New York Times ran a profile of a prominent troll who earns about $25 million a year and boasts how he likes to “go thug” and “just loves Paris.”
Here’s the eBay complaint, which was initially filed in February, but refiled last week for procedural reasons: