Microsoft Co-founder Sues Google, Apple and Facebook Over Patents

Billionaire Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, has sued 11 major Web-based companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube and eBay, alleging they infringed internet patents he owns.

A firm run by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is suing Apple, Google and 9 other companies alleging they are violating patents Mr. Allen financed more than a decade ago. Photo: Wall Street Journal

A firm owned by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen today sued 11 major Web-based companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, YouTube and eBay, charging them with infringing patents filed more than a decade ago.

AOL, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Staples are the other companies accused of violating four patents said cover fundamental web technologies first developed at Interval Research in the 1990s.

The suit does not name Microsoft , which Allen co-founded with Bill Gates in 1975 but left in 1983 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. Microsoft did not reply to a request asking whether it had licensed some or all of the applicable patents from Allen’s firm.

The suit has been brought by Interval Licensing, which is controlled by Mr Allen. It owns the patents of Interval Reserach, a defunct computer science and communications research company founded by Mr Allen and David Liddle in 1992.

Paul Allen (far bottom right) co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975 and left the company in 1983. He remains one of the software giant's largest shareholders. Above: a 1978 photo of early Microsoft employees. Photo: Wall Street Journal

Earlier this year Forbes put Mr Allen, 57, in the No. 37 spot on its world’s richest list, and estimated his net worth at $13.5 billion.

According to the complaint, Interval Research employed more than 110 of the world’s leading scientists, physicists, and engineers and was at the forefront in designing next-generation science and technology. It also claims to have helped fund outside projects, including work done by Google founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page.

Allen’s lawsuit claimed that the 11 companies violated patents developed by Internal Research. Those patents were later transferred to Interval Licensing, a company owned by Allen. David Postman, a spokesman for Mr Allen, said: “This lawsuit is necessary to protect our investment in innovation.”

The two patents that make up the bulk of the claims are 6,263,507, “Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data,” and 6,757,682, “Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest.”

The billionaire bought the Portland Trail Blazers in 1988, Seattle Seahawks in 1997 and control of cable-TV provider Charter, which went through bankruptcy in 2009. Above: Mr. Allen celebrates a 1997 election to fund a new football stadium. Photo: Kika Press/Zuma Press

Allen’s lawsuit alleges that all but Facebook violated the ‘507 patent, and all 11 companies infringed the ‘682 patent. Interval filed applications for the four patents between March 1996 and September 2000, and was awarded the patents between March 2000 and September 2004.

The ‘507 patent refers to a possible application in a “news browser” that could be used to “review news stories acquired during one day from several television news programs, as well as from text news sources.” The ‘682 patent, meanwhile, describes technology for alerting users of Web content related to what they’re currently viewing, or of others’ activities that might interest them.

The ‘682 patent is the only one that Allen’s company claimed was violated by Facebook, the popular social networking site. The remaining two patents spell out an “attention manager” that would flash advertisements, stock quotes and other information in front of a user.

The 15-page complaint singled out Google for special treatment, saying that Interval Research provided both funding and assistance to the then-fledgling search firm in 1998, the year founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin incorporated the company.

Included with the complaint was a 1998 screenshot of Google’s “About” page that showed Interval Research credited as one of four sources of research funding, and one of two outside collaborators.

Mr. Allen, 57 years old, remains one of the world's richest people. He pledged to give away much of his fortune shortly before filing his patent suit against Google and other Silicon Valley giants. Above: Mr. Allen with Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck at a 2007 game. Photo: Wall Street Journal

In a statement Friday, Google and Facebook blasted the lawsuit as “unfortunate” and “without merit.”

“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,” said Google. “Innovation – not litigation – is the way to bring to market the kinds of products and services that benefit millions of people around the world.”

Facebook ‘s take was more blunt. “We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously,” said company spokesman Andrew Noyes in an e-mail.

Other Companies, including Apple and Yahoo , did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the lawsuit.

Allen’s suit seeks unspecified damages, as well as injunctions that would block the accused companies from continuing to use the patented technologies. [via Daily Telegraph (UK), Wall Street Journal and Reuters]

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