Former Microsoft executive and billionaire Paul Allen sued several major Internet companies and three large retailers for patent infringement today, asserting that four patents originating at Interval Research, Allen's dot-com era think tank, cover basic web browsing and e-commerce technologies.
The lawsuit [PDF] was filed by Interval Licensing LLC, a patent-holding company owned by Allen, and names eleven companies as defendants: AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube.
Interval Research was founded in 1992. It closed its doors in 2000, but the lawsuit is necessary to monetize the investment that Allen made in the organization, said David Postman, a spokesman for Allen.
The patents cover "a variety of key processes in e-commerce," said Postman. "Interval Research was early—and right—on key pieces of the Internet," said Postman. "It's important now to protect that investment. We believe these companies are using that technology, in both e-commerce and search."
Allen is one of the world's richest people, with a fortune that Forbes magazine estimates as over $13 billion.
A Wired magazine profile of Interval Research suggests that by 1999, the institute was struggling, with Allen having spent upwards of $100 million on research and not much to show for it. "Interval always had a special buzz and a collection of talent that, even in the annals of technological genius, stands out."
The four patents-in-suit were filed between 1996 and 2000.
- No. 6,263,507, "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data."
- No. 6,034,652, "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device."
- No. 6,788,314, "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device."
- No. 6,757,682, "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest."
The suit was filed in the Western District of Washington. Interval Licensing is represented by Susman Godfrey, a Texas-based law firm that focuses on contingency-fee patent lawsuits, and Heim, Payne & Chorush is a smaller patent firm based in Houston.
- Interval Licensing press release on the lawsuit
- Interval Licensing v. AOL et al. complaint [PDF]
- Coverage from Wall Street Journal
Cross-posted at Corporate Counsel.