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Ask Jeeves Joins Patent Wars

By Chet Dembeck
Dec 20, 1999 12:00 AM PT

Last week, two scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sued popular search engine Ask Jeeves, alleging that the company violated two U.S. patents that were issued to them in 1994 and 1995.

Ask Jeeves Joins Patent Wars

A spokeswoman for Ask Jeeves said that the suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by Patrick Winston and Boris Katz, is without merit and that the company will aggressively defend itself.

Suit Seeks Injunction

Winston and Katz, who work in artificial intelligence and natural-language research at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are seeking an injunction prohibiting Ask Jeeves from "making, using or selling Internet search products."

Additionally, the suit seeks to prevent Ask Jeeves from licensing its search engine to other companies and to collect damages and royalties.

Not First Suit

This incident is not the first time that Ask Jeeves has been sued for an alleged patent infringement. In July, IPlearn, LLC of Mountain View, California, filed a similar suit in federal court in Oakland, California.

Ask Jeeves has denied those allegations as well.

A Meteoric Ride

After going public July 1st, Ask Jeeves has been busy building its market share through agreements and acquisitions.

In October, when Microsoft Corp. announced that it would employ Ask Jeeves to answer customer questions on a wide range of its applications, the Emeryville, California-based search engine's stock soared. Dell Computer Corp., among other well-known companies, has already incorporated the technology into its Web site.

In November, Ask Jeeves, Inc. agreed to acquire closely held online customer-support software maker Net Effect Systems for about $288 million (US$) in stock.

Ask Jeeves exchanged 1.835 million shares for the North Hollywood, California-based Net Effect. When the transaction is completed in the fourth quarter, Net Effect investors will have a 5.5 percent stake in Ask Jeeves.

How this latest lawsuit will affect the continued growth of the search engine will now have to be played out in court.

About Ask Jeeves

Founded in 1996 by David Warthen and Garrett Gruener, Ask Jeeves (Nasdaq: ASKJ) went online in 1997 and receives about four million visits a month. The site is named after the unruffled English valet in P.G. Wodehouse novels.

Chairman Roger Strauch owns about 13 percent of the company, partly through Roda Group. CPQ Holdings, a subsidiary of Compaq Computer Corp., owns about 12 percent.

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