Google will be headed back to the Western District of Wisconsin to fight off a patent lawsuit it thought it had beat, thanks to yesterday’s appeals court decision in HyperPhrase Technologies v. Google. (Bloomberg News story here; court order is here)
That case is connected, by both venue and attorney, to the Netcraft Corp. v. eBay lawsuit that a Wisconsin federal judge tossed out last week on summary judgment. I wrote about that case in Monday’s Daily Journal, and it’s worth following up on here.
Like the MercExchange case that has dogged eBay for more than six years, the Netcraft litigation involves a patent-wielding lawyer-inventor.
Netcraft Corp. v. eBay Inc., 07-00254 (W.D. Wisconsin)
Andrew Egendorf is a Massachusetts lawyer-inventor who began laying a broad claim to the world of electronic commerce in the mid-90’s. (find a short bio with photo here). In May, he sued eBay for infringing on his patents on “Internet billing methods.”
Netcraft is the patent-holding company set up to assert Egendorf’s patents; in addition to the eBay litigation, he filed a Delaware lawsuit against five cell phone companies in October. Netcraft Corp. v. AT&T, 07-cv-00651 (Delaware). Netcraft’s parent company is called Tradecraft; another entity called Datacraft has popped up in some patent searches).
Netcraft's lawyer is Fish & Richardson partner Frank Scherkenbach—who also represents Google against HyperPhrase, a locally grown Wisconsin patent-holding company. eBay hired an Irell & Manella team led by Morgan Chu, who tells me that Irell started working with eBay in 2006.
Even though he lost this one, Egendorf can’t be too disappointed. After all, it looks like he cashed in a few weeks before he even filed the suit against eBay. He’s one of five named inventors on a “friend finding” social networking patent, number 6,618,593, which was sold for $2.86 million at the April 2007 OceanTomo auction.
Egendorf is a lawyer with deep connections to rise of the Internet. He helped found Symbolics in 1980 with some heavy-hitters out of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and became the company’s general counsel in 1983.
Symbolics was the first dot-com ever, and the company soon had a famously uncomprising opponent: free software advocate Richard Stallman. Stallman has nothing but disdain for software patents like those Egendorf builds and litigates; he also took a mighty dim view of the folks who founded at Symbolics.
“They would get outside investment, not have scruples, and do everything possible to win,” Stallman said in a lecture transcribed here. Stallman had a bitter falling out with Symbolics, describing its founding as a “stabbing in the back,” but also said the company inspired him to created GNU, his free operating system.
In 1968, Egendorf and a friend wrote to Ralph Nader, describing themselves as "disgusted Harvard graduate students who must endure endless years of drivel in order to mechanically defend the guilty and profitably screw the consumer,” according to this article in the San Diego Union-Tribune. He urged Nader to enlist him in a “judicial jihad” and became one of the original “Nader’s Raiders.” Egendorf is interviewed in the Nader documentary "An Unreasonable Man," which I have not seen.
And file this under interesting timing: the "Andrew Egendorf" entry in Wikipedia was flagged for deletion on May 3, 2007—the same day Egendorf filed his lawsuit against eBay. If I were of a more conspiratorial mindset, I might think that suspicious. But it looks like the Wikipedians who voted to kill the page were mainly annoyed that it was written by his old buddy and former Symbolics president Russell Noftsker. The articlde-deletion debate is nothing special, and can be read here.
Short histories of Noftsker, Egendorf and venture capitalist Jean de Valpine, are on Noftsker's Wikipedia user page. The note on Egendorf mentions that his wife Linda is a well-known sculptor.
She's a would-be inventor, too. Linda Egendorf has her own patent application in the works--it's for a "method of creating a soft sculpture."