Microsoft cofounder drops patent bomb on Apple, Google, Facebook

Paul AllenPaul Allen, entrepreneur and cofounder of Microsoft, has filed a lawsuit against 11 companies for infringements on his Web search patents. Announced on Friday afternoon, the suit names Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, and Microsoft partner Yahoo as defendants for violating four Interval Licensing LLC patents, though the court will likely have to weigh whether the patents in question are "obvious" or not.

The patents revolve around three main concepts: browser use for navigating through information, managing a user's peripheral attention while using a device, and alerting users to items of current interest. They collectively address the general concept of presenting searched-for information to a user along with related news articles, media (such as music or videos), status updates from friends, or data (such as stock or weather info).

Needless to say, numerous Internet companies make use of such concepts, including, of course, Microsoft. However, Microsoft has managed to escape Allen's ire for the time being, while the 11 other companies seem to share the oddly coincidental characteristic of being wildly popular with the public. In its announcement, Interval has declared itself a "ground-breaking contributor to the development of the internet economy" and says all it wants to do is "protect [its] investment in innovation."

It's hard not to see the lawsuit as a patent troll—especially given the fact that Interval doesn't actually produce any products and the word "licensing" is right in the company's name. Still, Allen and his spokesperson David Postman clearly believe that they are defending a concept that is not practically universal among search engines and web browsers, but rather something that would not exist at all had Interval not come up with it.

"We are not asserting patents that other companies have filed, nor are we buying patents originally assigned to someone else," Postman said in a statement. "These are patents developed by and for Interval."

A Google spokesperson responded to the lawsuit by saying that it uses the patent system to work against innovation, not for it. "This lawsuit against some of America's most innovative companies reflects an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace," the spokesperson said. "Innovation—not litigation—is the way to bring to market the kinds of products and services that benefit millions of people around the world." (Apple did not respond to our request for comment by publication time.)

Some of the defendants, such as Apple and Google, have gone on record in support of serious patent reform in the US, though such reform is still a ways away. Courts have increasingly put patents through the "obviousness test" in recent years when deciding patent cases, too, which will undoubtedly come into play if this lawsuit doesn't end in a settlement.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Microsoft

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