Paul Allen sues Apple, Google, Facebook, puppy dogs, all things good and decent (not Microsoft)

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has dropped the patent suit hammer on Apple, Google, Facebook, AOL, eBay, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube, accusing them of violating his lab's innovations in internet commerce. According to the Wall Street Journal:

For Mr. Allen, the lawsuit marks new terrain. He is aggressively going after companies, including many of Silicon Valley's biggest names, that he thinks are violating technology that was developed at his Interval Research Corp., a Palo Alto, Calif., lab and technology incubator he financed with about $100 million during the Internet bubble.

Here are the patents in question:

  • Patent #507 “Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data.”
  • Patent #657 “Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device.”
  • Patent #314 “Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device.”
  • Patent #682 “Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest.”

Google has responded with:

“This lawsuit against some of America’s most innovative companies reflects an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace. Innovation — not litigation — is the way to bring to market the kinds of products and services that benefit millions of people around the world.”

And Facebook says:

We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously

What do you think, pure patent trolling or does Paul Allen deserve compensation?

[Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch]

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Paul Allen sues Apple, Google, Facebook, puppy dogs, all things good and decent (not Microsoft)


Patent #682 “Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest.”
I don't understand how people can get patents on things like this. This sounds so vague! It's like putting a patent on the ability to notify someone when they get a phone call.

Patent titles are always overbroad. One Sun/Oracle patent Google is accused of violating is simply "Controlling access to a resource" (6192476), and one of Apple's patents is titled "Animated graphical user interfaces for a display screen or portion thereof " (D621,848). That does not necessarily mean the patent is bogus, though, in the case of software, it is more often than not.
Unfortunately, the merits of the patent rarely matter. NTP, which holds a patent on "Electronic mail system with RF communications to mobile processors," but has never made an implementation in its 20 years, shook down RIM for $612 million, and as of this moment is now suing Apple, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft and Motorola on similar grounds.
Most software patents are similarly silly. James Gosling, Java's father, said that in response to an IBM lawsuit against Sun and some further legal threats, some senior Sun engineers started a game to see who could get the goofiest patent. (Quick read: ) Stupid patents about in software; real engineers know when a patent is tripe, but the current system encourages their employers to railroad questionable patents past underqualified and overworked examiners, not because they are protecting anything specific or meaningful, but solely to stifle innovation by clubbing other companies into submission.
I would wager that Mr Allen's patents have at least as much validity as NTPs, or Oracle's, or Apple's -- that is to say, damned little. But he still has a good chance of winning. The Supreme Court dropped the ball on patent reform in the Bilski case ( ), but we can only hope one of these patent trolls will finally go so far into absurdity that the system will finally collapse.

If development is so important to the new ever evolving technologies, then those that spent the significant amounts of money, investing their time and stretching their minds to come up with new uses and new ways of accessing information, they have a right to the patent, which they hold anyway, and that patent has to be honored. It is not fair that other companies simply live off the avails of some other company's or individual's innovations!

He deserves compensation alright. He deserves to be compensated by having the steel-toed boot of the court system kick him in his arrogant greedy behind.

I don't agree with this suit, but Apple makes some frivolous lawsuits as well. Seems pretty common. Everybody sues everybody over the vaguest patents.

Paul Allen, shut the f*** up! :P These lawsuits are totally out of order and only serve to hinder competition and innovation.

"Patent #507 “Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data.”
So...basically, the internet?

Lets remember the very companies named in these lawsuits are some of the companies that love to sue everyone they consider have breached their intellectual property rites they wanted these protections now when the shoe is on the other foot its suddenly "stifling market innovation" really? seems they don't want to be held accountable I say lets see where this ends up and maybe some of these larger companies will have to pull their heads in and act within the laws they wanted created.

This is how business works get enough clout to sue and do so. Everyone knows a patent is only worth money until it gets litigated.
PS. Steve needs to sign up for that giving away his billions to charity after he dies. That is where this money if he wins will eventually go.

Many of these patents should probably be reviewed in light of newer technologies. Some of these are so vague that they could apply to anything - Patent #682 “Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest.” - doors closing warnings, microwave ding when your food's ready, satnav?

I think Nilay Patel from @Engadget did a nice interview with some of the folks from @Cnet on the importance of having patents and there accompanying laws. All in all the patents were awarded to Mr. Allen, so he is within his personal rights to seek damages against whoever he chooses. He does not have to target everyone or anyone, but it is alone his choice. I think this is a move to "level" the playing field. It's a gesture to remind the the companies who are "innovating" that they are accountable for the information they use. You would be ignorant if you assume that none of these companies even knew about these patents. They did. The figured since everyone else is doing it and not getting caught, why not us? It's business people, plain and simple. Stop expecting everyone to play fair because it'll never happen.

Here's my patent:
Patent #1009: Alerts user that a strong bowel movement is upcoming with loud gurgling sound and/or push notification. (See patent # 1010 for push notification treatment.)

Aren't these guys already minted enough after all the success they've had in dot com boom? Or is it just that they're a tad bored and couldn't think of anything else to build/design and then realised that somebody else came up with an idea that they should have thought of and then decided to sue because of it!!

Paul's companies must be having problem since he has given up on getting revenue the normal way he has to now resort to this.

Rene, I think it's a little strange that you failed to mention that Paul Allen is already incredibly wealthy, and that he has agreed to give away half of his wealth to charity along with Bill Gates and 40 other billionaires, including George Lucas, Ted Turner, and Warren Buffet. I don't think it's a coincidence that Allen is pursuing patent litigation on such a broad scale against these well-established companies, which have also made their founders very wealthy, within months of pledging to give away half of his money. In fact, I think it's the only way to explain his behavior. Allen doesn't need the money personally, and he's not suing any company that is going to go out of business over this, so he's clearly not interested in stifling competition. It is most likely that in many of the cases, licensing deals will be negotiated, and more money will go to charity.

Ahhh the attorneys need Christmas money again. They are the only winners. It beats the commercials, "Are You Dead And Don't Know It?" call Cheateam Krookem, and Scamem. Remember, if you do not win, you owe us nothing. Really getting tied if these.

I'm gonna haveta go with trolling on this one, as, those patents are so vague as to be ridiculous. especially "Patent #682 “Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest.”"
That could apply to anything, the flashing green man at a pedestrian crossing, a text message alert, a pop up window, I mean c'mon, that's not innovative.

HAHAHAHAHA too funny suing other people for using his technology - payback stinks - AHH didn't you and Gates steal the technology from Xerox ??? HAHAHA
- correct me if I'm wrong, the judge ruled in favor of the good of all people and agreed you STOLE the technology - Grow up PAUL