Paul Allen to Silicon Valley: Your Ideas Are Mine

The Microsoft co-founder says top tech companies are violating his patents

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Website modules that suggest items related to what you're viewing. Pop-ups at the corner of your computer screen that notify you when a friend's status has changed. Widgets that display stock quotes or the weather forecast. You've probably come across many of these staples of digital society already this morning.

According to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, they're his. The Seattle Times is reporting that the billionaire's now-shuttered technology firm, Interval Licensing, has filed an amended lawsuit against Apple, Google Facebook, eBay, and seven other web and office supply behemoths for patent infringement, after a federal judge in Seattle ruled earlier in December that an initial suit was too vague. The firm is requesting compensation from companies it claims are employing technologies developed by Interval in the 1990s.

Does Interval have a case?

  • It's a Longshot, says Brier Dudley at The Seattle Times, citing legal experts. But "the potential payoff is large--perhaps $500 million or more if he wins."
  • What Are Allen's Motivations? asks Christopher Dawson at ZDNet:
To a billionaire who goes around building music museums, it seems as though there would need to be more at stake than a mere $500 million to bother going after the likes of Google, Apple, and Staples. This seems like it's more about the future of the Web (including the mobile Web and Microsoft’s biggest competitor) than it is about YouTube and iTunes content recommendations.
  • Some of These Allegations Are Bizarre, points out Peter Sayer at PC World. He notes that Interval accuses the e-mail spam filters offered by AOL and Google of infringement "because their classification of messages as spam depends in part of a comparison with other e-mail messages received."
  • Google's Android Operating System May Be in Trouble, asserts Florian Mueller at FOSS Patents. The lawsuit, he explains, levels allegations at Google for making and selling devices with the Android OS and associated software like Google Talk and Google Voice. Mueller adds:
Should Google be served an injunction as a result of Interval's suit, owners of Android phones ... would experience a very significant degradation of the user experience. Android's usability is generally under threat now because Apple already asserts various user interface (particularly multi-touch) patents against HTC and Motorola, and in its latest claims against Motorola, Microsoft also asserted a couple of touchscreen patents.
  • What Is It With Ex-Microsoft Execs and Patent Suits? asks Philip Elmer-DeWitt at Fortune: "Nathan Myhrvold, former chief technology officer at Microsoft, has applied for more than 500 patents through a company called Intellectual Ventures that is [pursuing] a business model based on suing companies that refuse to license them."
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