August 28, 2010

Interval Sues Major Corps Over Patent Infringement

A company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against several Internet companies in a US court on Friday.

Seattle-based Interval Leasing is suing 11 major corporations, including Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and its owner Google, accusing them of infringing on technology patents.

AOL, eBay, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples and Yahoo are also included in the lawsuit. Interval Leasing said the patents infringed upon are on fundamental Web technologies the company developed in the 1990s.

Google, Facebook and eBay said they plan to fight the accusations by Interval, which does not manufacture, but does own a portfolio of patents in the technological field.

Experts say companies that lack production but maintain old patents to make broad infringement claims tend to raise questions. But the lawsuit points to Allen's long history with Google, including early funding of founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, a likely attempt to distinguish this lawsuit from other opportunistic patent litigation, Stanford professor and IP litigator Mark Lemley told Reuters.

"It is usually an indication either that the patents are invalid, or they're over-claiming them," said Lemley, whose law firm represents Google and Netflix in unrelated matters.

"Interval Research was an early, ground-breaking contributor to the development of the Internet economy," Interval spokesman David Postman told teh AFP news agency. "This lawsuit is necessary to protect our investment in innovation."

Postman said that the technology involved was created by Interval Research, a company founded by Allen and David Liddle in 1992, and not patents acquired from other companies.

Patents Allen claimed to have been infringed on include those involved with using Web browsers to find information, alerting computer users to items of interest, and an "Attention Manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device."

The patents involved in the suit are from patents filed over several years covering Internet search and display innovations, according to the lawsuit. Interval Leasing now owns those patents.

The suit was filed in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington. Interval is seeking damages and a halt to the alleged violations of patents it said were fundamental to e-commerce and search.

"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," a Google spokesman said in a statement.

Interval spokesman David Postman said the lawsuit was necessary to protect its investment in innovation.

"We are not asserting patents that other companies have filed, nor are we buying patents originally assigned to someone else," Postman told Reuters, adding "these are patents developed by and for Interval."

Andrew Noyes, a spokesman for Facebook told Reuters that the lawsuit is completely without merit and "we will fight it vigorously."

Allen, who has been treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in July, pledged most of his estimated $13.5 billion fortune to philanthropy after his death. He co-founded Microsoft in 1975 but resigned as an executive in 1983 after he overcame a first bout with cancer.