Business, Software Programs

Paul Allen Sues Silicon Valley Biggies, Skips Microsoft


On Friday, Interval Licensing, a Paul G. Allen company, claimed four patents have been infringed by big name defendants. The eleven named defendants are: AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube, according to the suit.

Bill Gates and Paul Allen in 1983Noticeably absent from the list of computer biggies was Microsoft, which Allen co-founded in 1975 with Bill Gates, and where he remains a major shareholder.

Allen and Interval say the named defendants are violating technology that was developed at Interval Research, a Palo Alto, California, lab and technology incubator venture that Allen and Xerox veteran David Liddle started in 1992 and closed in 2000. Allen reportedly financed the research lab to the tune of $100 million.

The complaint, filed in federal court in Washington state, asserts that four patents covering e-commerce and online functions, that have been the main stay of most websites for years, were being used without paying royalties.

Facebook’s statement, provided by spokesman Andrew Noyes, said: "We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously."

A spokeswoman for eBay gave a similar statement, saying: "We are reviewing the complaint filed today. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously."

Google also said they will fight the accusations. AOL, Office Depot, Netflix and OfficeMax declined to comment. The other companies were not immediately available for comment.

According to Forbes, Allen is the 37th richest person in the world with a personal wealth of $13.5 billion as of 2010. He co-founded Interval Research to develop communications and computer technology. The company, which at one point employed more than 110 scientists and engineers, supposedly filed nearly 300 patents including the four disputed Internet search and display innovations.

The complaint says that in 2001, Interval invented and patented an algorithm which "enables some or all of a body of information to be skimmed quickly, enabling a quick overview of the content of the body of information to be obtained." This allows a "browser for use in navigating body of information. The invention also enables quick identification of information that pertains to a particular subject." The suit is in effect claiming to own the concept of automatically showing related information on a website. Thus, people viewing a news story online could be presented with related stories.

The suit is alleging the patents being infringed upon include:

United States Patent No. 6,263,507 issued for an invention entitled "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data."

United States Patent No. 6,034,652 issued for an invention entitled "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device."

United States Patent No. 6,788,314 issued for an invention entitled "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device."

United States Patent No. 6,757,682 issued for an invention entitled "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest."

Paul Allen is also famous as the founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc., which is his private asset management company, and as chairman of Charter Communications. Allen also has a multi-billion dollar investment portfolio which includes stakes in Digeo, Kiha Software, real estate holdings, and more than 40 other technology, media, and content companies.

Allen also owns three professional sports teams: the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League [NFL], the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association [NBA], and the Seattle Sounders FC franchise which began playing in the 2009 season in Major League Soccer.

Another asset, or hobby, is Allen’s $200 million, 414-foot yacht "Octopus" [128.18m] which was delivered in 2003.

Paul Allen’s Megayacht: Octopus

Octopus has a crew of 60, two helicopters, seven boats, a submarine, and a remote controlled vehicle that crawls the ocean floor. This yacht costs the billionaire $20 million a year [or $384,000 a week] in upkeep. By the way Paul Allen has two other smaller yachts.

Allen is not the only patent litigator asking for money. Last month, NTP sued Apple, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, and Motorola for infringement of wireless email patents. In 2006, NTP collected a $612 million settlement from Research In Motion. NTP is often referred to as a Patent Troll.

Over at Zdnet, Ed Bott’s Microsoft Report, claims the Paul Allen is not a Patent Troll. That is yet to be seen, since Allen somehow overlooked Microsoft as a litigant in Friday?s lawsuit. Allen’s spokesman, David Postman, declined to say why the lawsuit went after particular companies, but said more companies could be pursued later.

Mark Lemley, Stanford professor and intellectual property litigator, says the lawsuit points out Allen’s deep history with Google, including early funding of founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. This is likely an attempt to distinguish this lawsuit from other opportunistic patent litigation, a.k.a. Patent Trolling.

If Allen and Interval are successful with this litigation, they could go after additional companies, seeking royalties for Interval patents that touch on much of our current Web experiences.