Paul Allen Comes Out Swinging in Round 2

Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen’s company, Interval Licensing, on Tuesday reopened a patent lawsuit originally filed last August in Seattle against 11 companies, including Apple and Google. Interval claims the defendants violated four patents owned by Paul Allen’s company Interval Research before it closed its doors in 2000. When the company closed, it transferred the patents to Interval Licensing, a patent-holding company also owned by Allen.

The lawsuit was dismissed earlier this month when Judge Marsha Pechman concurred with plaintiffs that the suit was too weak on specifics. Pechman gave Interval until December 28 to resubmit the case with greater detail as to what products and devices were in violation of the patents.

Interval claims that its technology was central to research and development of Internet technology in the 1990s. The company holds 300 patents. The four specific patents cited in the lawsuit have to do with the way Web data is sorted and presented.

Interval spokesperson David Postman told the E-Commerce Times on Wednesday that the company wouldn’t be commenting on the lawsuit.

Long Claims List

The companies have violated the patents in a variety of ways, according to Interval. Regarding one patent that concerns the generation of data related to information being browsed, Interval alleges that Google uses the technology to match advertisements with content, while AOL uses it to suggest items related to news stories.

With respect to another patent, Interval claims Apple’s iTunes uses the technology to suggest music based on a user’s searches. The suit also maintains that eBay, Facebook, Netflix, Office Depot and Yahoo infringe in the way they direct users to content.

Features found in AOL Instant Messenger and in Apple’s Dashboard, as well as in Google Talk, Gmail Notifier and Google’s Android, are patent violations, Interval claims.

Regarding a website’s ability to suggest content to users, Interval claims that eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, Staples, Yahoo and Google’s YouTube infringe its patent.

Are Allen’s Claims Valid?

At the time the judge dismissed the suit, Interval spokesperson Postman downplayed the ruling, suggesting it was a perfunctory move.

“The judge said he wasn’t being specific enough, so Allen refiled with the specifics,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times. “Paul Allen has paid a lot for a lot of technology, and much of it didn’t go anywhere, so now he’s trying to recover that investment.”

Given Allen’s considerable background in technology, the suit may have some substance.

“Assuming he did his due diligence when he bought the companies with the technology at issue, it should hold up in court,” said Enderle. “Paul Allen has never been a foolish guy. His business ventures have not been that successful, but the idea that the technology he bought was bogus is not likely.”

Or Is Allen a Patent Troll?

When Allen first filed his lawsuit, many in the tech industry called him a “patent troll” — a pejorative term for an individual or company that enforces patents in a manner that is unduly aggressive or opportunistic.

Although others came to his defense, “there is something to be said for this,” Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC, told the E-Commerce Times. “A smart patent troll will already have done the homework and will know what he wants out of it.”

A suit with such highly technical minutiae could take years to work its way through the courts.

“This is very broad. Even with the amended suit, it’s still like trying to boil the ocean,” said DiDio. “Where is he going with this? Is it just for money? Will it gain traction?”

Given the resources of the plaintiffs, few could be forced to settle.

“Interval is going to spend its resources and force others to spend theirs — unless someone decides to settle,” said DiDio. “Apple and Google have lots of billions to throw at this. I don’t see these guys — Apple, Google, Staples — caving.”

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