Did patent holding companies throw a year-end party in honor of my vacation? I flatter myself. But there must have been some kind of December discount I didn't know about. In any case, reviewing what happened over the last few weeks I feel a bit overwhelmed. But let's start with an old favorite.
Oprah Winfrey's book club has been sued for patent infringement. Not joking. The inventor is patent attorney Scott C. Harris, who claims to have invented a method of "Enhancing Touch and Feel on the Internet," described in his 7,111,252 patent, which was used to sue Google over its Book Search feature. Shortly after that lawsuit was filed, Harris was fired from Fish & Richardson, the top law firm where he was a partner—Google is a firm client. See my L'Affaire Harris timeline for more. The '252 patent describes a way of displaying three-dimensional objects online. It is being used to sue companies that, like Google, display books electronically.
Illinois Computer Research is the shell company that files lawsuits over the '252 patent. It is owned by a Florida lawyer, James Beauregard Parker, whose connection to Harris and his lawyers at Niro Scavone remains unclear.
What is clear is that the "Touch and Feel" patent is back on the warpath. On Dec. 23, Illinois Computer Research (ICR) filed suit against Harpo Productions—the company that controls Oprah Winfrey's publishing empire—saying that Oprah's Book Club infringes the '252 patent, and the Book Club must pay Parker a royalty. Sony Electronics is also named as a defendant; its Sony Bookreader product is accused of trampling on Harris' idea-space. The complaint doesn't accuse a specific feature of Oprah's Book Club, but I imagine the club either markets an electronic reading device or has some kind of online reading feature. Is this the first time Oprah has been hit with a patent lawsuit, I wonder? Will suing the company of such a prominent personality result in a little news coverage? (The Chicago CBS station ran a brief and barely-sensible newswire story about the lawsuit, which generously refers to ICR as a "research business.")
The '252 patent describes allowing readers to review "excerpts from a digital book for preview prior to purchase, but prevents the reader from obtaining and reviewing the entire book prior to purchase," according to the ICR v. Harpo complaint. Illinois Computer Research v. Harpo Productions et al., 08-cv-7322, N.D. Illinois.
Other holding companies armed with Harris patents have been busy as well.
- On the same day the ICR lawsuit was filed, another Harris-related holding company, Memory Control Enterprise, sued Symantec for infringing patent 6,952,719, a "Spam Detector Defeating System." Like all the Harris patents in this post, the '719 was filed and prosecuted while he was a principal at Fish & Richardson. The lawsuit asks for royalty payments on sales of Symantec's Brightmail Gateway software and Internet Appliance hardware. Memory Control Enterprise v. Symantec, 08-cv-07330, N.D. Illinois (Chicago).
- Five days earlier, Memory Control Enterprise sued OfficeMax, Canon, Hyundai, Toyota, and Volkswagen for infringing Harris patent 6,704,791, another patent on three-dimensional displays. MCE accuses all five companies' web sites of using three-dimensional display methods described in the the '791 patent, and demands a royalty be paid for use of the OfficeMax, Canon, Hyundai, and Volkswagen websites. Memory Control Enterprise v. OfficeMax et al, 08-cv-07252, N.D. Illinois.
I can't recall seeing that anti-spam patent asserted before, but like all the other patents mentioned in this post, it was filed and prosecuted while Harris was a principal at Fish & Richardson. Memory Control Enterprise, which Illinois state records indicate is controlled by Courtney Sherrer, has a growing record of asserting Harris patents. Harris was a co-plaintiff on an MCE patent lawsuit filed against GPS manufacturers in September, but is not a direct party to the above lawsuits.
The '791 3-D display patent is fast becoming an "I-own-the-Internet" style e-commerce patent; it has now been asserted against 15 companies (that I am aware of) in a variety of industries. In addition to the companies listed here, Harris/Sherrer/Niro have filed lawsuits demanding online-display royalties from the websites of Dell, Honda, LG Electronics, Motorola, Oakley, U.S. Cellular, General Motors, Kodak, Panasonic, and Move.com. (Details on the Harris timeline.)
Now from Chicago to sunny Florida—
- Innovative Patented Technology, LLC, a patent-holding company also controlled by James Parker but based in Florida, sued HTC Corporation on Dec. 30, accusing it of infringing three Harris patents. Two patents, 7,096,187 and 7,260,421, are related to audio compression; the third patent, 6,738,643, claims to cover synching a PDA and a telephone. In the complaint, Parker claims the HTC Touch Dual cell phone infringes Harris' patentes, and demands royalties for sales of that phone. Innovative Patented Technology v. HTC Corporation, 08-cv-62086-WJZ, S.D. Florida.
Last year, Innovative Patented Technology asserted the Harris cell phone patents against Motorola (settled in May) and Samsung and Nokia (settled in August, after the judge granted a stay to the defendants). IPT asserted the same three patents as above, as well as 7,079,652, which involves a phone that detects a user's surroundings. Ray Niro and other Niro Scavone lawyers represent plaintiffs in all the lawsuits listed in this post.
And honestly, that is only scratching the surface of December 2008. More to come. Happy new year!