Online News Link, a Texas-based shell company, claims in a new lawsuit that Amazon is infringing on three patents that describe a method of inserting links into online newspapers and other media.
In its complaint filed last week, Online News cites US Patent 7,508,789 and two others, which it acquired through a series of other shell companies, and which it has used to sue Apple and other media companies in the past.
The overview of the patents describe a system where an “associated linking reference is sent to the remote site” and, in a more detailed description, the patents refer repeatedly to digital newspapers and include the following description and an image of news terms with links:
When an underlined term in FIG. 2A is selected by a user, microcomputer 290 extracts the linkage reference and transmits it to database 259. The linkage reference allows database 259 to retrieve the necessary information quickly without doing extensive searches. As a result, the response time of system 250 is fast. The retrieved information can itself contains linkage references and can be searched.
It’s unclear what these patents have to do with Amazon. A lawyer for Online News Link, Eric Albittron, declined to comment on the case or specify which of Amazon’s products are infringing the patents. Albittron likewise refused to explain what exactly Online News Link does in the first place.
Texas corporate records reveal that the shell company, which is also suing Dell and HP, is controlled by Acacia Global Acquisition LLC, whose name suggests it is tied to publicly-traded Acacia. The firm is known in intellectual property circles as “the Mother of all patent trolls.”
Patent suits like the one against Amazon, which can cost millions of dollars to defend, have given rise a national debate about the merit of so-called patent trolls, who amass old patents and make a business out of threats and lawsuits against companies that produce things. The troll model is effective in part because shell companies like Online News Link don’t have assets that can targeted in a countersuit.
Congress, the FTC and President Obama have proposed reforms to curb abuse of the patent system but, so far, the troll suits have continued apace. Update: Online News Link has also filed suits against Netflix, Overstock and other tech and media companies.