Paul Allen Becomes A Patent Troll, Sues Google, Apple, Facebook, eBay And Others...

from the those-who-can't-innovate,-litigate dept

Microsoft's "other" co-founder, Paul Allen, has had a long string of business failures since leaving Microsoft. It's actually quite impressive. One of his most high profile ventures, back in the 90's, was Interval Research, which was designed to be a pure research institute "done right." It was described as trying to replicate Xerox PARC, but that it would actually commercialize the amazing ideas. Of course, as we've pointed out for ages, ideas are only a small part of innovation. Actual execution is the really difficult part, and one thing Interval was never able to do was execute. After eight years and over $100 million of Allen's money, the operation was shut down back in 2000. That was about the last we'd heard of Interval... until now.

Because, while Interval was unable to actually execute, thanks to the wonders of the US Patent system, it was able to secure lots of patents, and now it looks like Paul Allen has gone full on patent troll. He's using those patents to sue Google (and, separately, YouTube), Apple, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo, Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples -- you know, the companies that actually did innovate and did execute -- for being successful where he failed. Of course, Paul Allen has been tangentially related to patent trolling operations in the past, so perhaps it was just a matter of time. Still, this is a pretty disgusting situation all around.

The WSJ article about the lawsuits doesn't mention the actual patents (why do so few reporters actually point you to the useful info?), but they're the following:
  • 6,263,507: "Browser for use in navigating a body of information, with particular application to browsing information represented by audio data."
  • 6,034,652 & 6,788,314 (really the same patent, involving continuations): "Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device"
  • 6,757,682: "Alerting users to items of current interest"
According to a report by Todd Bishop at Techflash, Interval may just be getting started: "This is the most recent step in a long process," he said in an email, "but it is not necessarily the end of the process." What a sad, sad legacy Mr. Allen is leaving behind.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Florian Mueller, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:11pm

    Google and its YouTube subsidiary among the 11 companies sued

    Technically there are 11 defendants, but since YouTube is a wholly-owned Google subsidiary, Google is effectively hit twice (parent company plus subsidiary). So Google is getting used to being sued over patents, esepcially by deep-pocket players. In the Bilski case before the US Supreme Court, Google filed a submission in which it stopped far short of advocating the abolition of software patents.

     

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    MrWilson, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:12pm

    Patent trolling: where you take someone else's ball and go home.

     

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      Danny, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:28pm

      Re:

      more like, "where you take someone else's ball, go home, then come back with a lawsuit to make them pay for the fact that they got the ball before you did."

       

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    cc (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:13pm

    Man, those patents are BROAD. How long will it be before they are thrown out?

     

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    Danny, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:30pm

    Seriously?

     

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      Danny, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:32pm

      Re: Seriously?

      Hit Enter instead of Tab.

      •6,757,682: "Alerting users to items of current interest"
      This has to be one of the most broad patents ever. Hell based on this the people that sumbit stories to blogs are violating this patent aren't they? That might mean that all you folks that submit stories for Mike to talk about here are violating Allen's patent.

       

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    davebarnes (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:39pm

    Grammar Nazi Alert

    @Mike,
    90s and not 90's

     

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    Daddy Warbucks, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:43pm

    Billionaire Innovation Terrorist

    The innovation process was just shot with an AK-47. Prognosis: critical condition.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:46pm

    Bad times at Microsoft? Who knows, but check out the price on these buses.

    Needless to say, things haven't been going well for Microsoft lately. In fact, it seems I wrote some software that infringes on patent 6,757,682. It has found some late-model buses that it appears Microsoft is selling in auction on a consignment basis.

    The auction:
    http://bit.ly/bJZhuY

    If these buses were actually used by MSFT, they would probably have been used to pick up and transport employees to and from work; kind of like elementary school, but actually is a fringe benefit for employees.

    So, I've been thinking about getting one of these buses, growing a beard like Paul Allen's, and traveling the country like a hippie. After all, the auction is starting at $500, and I would love to put "Party Van" on the sides. Who knows, maybe I will find a fresh, unopened copy of Microsoft Vista sandwiched in one of the seat cushions.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:58pm

      Re: Bad times at Microsoft? Who knows, but check out the price on these buses.

      MS does run its own buses and shuttles in Seattle, so those very well are just older buses/shuttles that have been replaced by newer ones.

      Not any indication MS is falling on hard times, unlike Mr Allen from the looks of it needing to become a patent troll.

       

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    interval (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 1:58pm

    Allen should know better. Must be a pure money grab.

     

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    drewmerc (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:05pm

    "Alerting users to items of current interest"
    prior art "me anytime in the last 40 years shouting LOOK at anything, of interest" (i'm sure i've done this alot i have a habit of shouting when i see something of interest and a shout is more or less an alert)

     

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    Cougrrr, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:18pm

    I'm actually pretty saddened by this, I've always been a fan of Paul Allen, what he's done for computers/the world, and as a northwest resident what he's done for our area. Further more we're both former Cougs (WSU), so its sad to see him go out this route.

    This is one case I'm going to let play out before I jump on the screw Paul Allen bandwagon because I've been a fan of his past work... but I am majorly sad to see this popping up today.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:20pm

    How embarrassing. Patent trolling is one notch above asking your friends and family for money. I would be ashamed.

     

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    PRMan, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:32pm

    How embarrassing. Patent trolling is one notch below asking your friends and family for money. I would be ashamed.
    FTFY

     

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    Peter, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:42pm

    Every MS competitor

    Obviously Microsoft would violate the ridiculously broad Patents, kind of nice to tie up all of MS competition in court...

    Does anyone know how much Microsoft stock Allen still owns.

     

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      interval (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:55pm

      Re: Every MS competitor

      Wikipedia reports his current, 2010 wealth at USD$13.5 Billion, and retains owns a reported 138 million shares, no mention of weather common or preferred stock.

       

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    lavi d (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 2:49pm

    Just Wondering

    Has anyone patented Patent Trolling yet?

     

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    JH, Aug 27th, 2010 @ 3:25pm

    Obligation to defend patents

    I could be wrong, but don't patent holders have an obligation to defend their patents. If these patents are from circa 2000 they have been violated pretty heavily for years. Wouldn't Allen have needed defend these patents much earlier?

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 3:34pm

      Re: Obligation to defend patents

      I could be wrong, but don't patent holders have an obligation to defend their patents. If these patents are from circa 2000 they have been violated pretty heavily for years. Wouldn't Allen have needed defend these patents much earlier?

      No, you're confusing it with trademarks.

       

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    Ben (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 5:59pm

    Legacy

    Heretofore I thought the Allen Telescope Array was his legacy, let's hope he realizes how wasteful these actions are before too much harm comes

     

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    TtfnJohn (profile), Aug 27th, 2010 @ 7:43pm

    Damn that's covered everything!

    A quick glance says that it's got CMS programs like Joomla and Drupal covered, news sites like MSN and HuffPo covered and more than likely the blinking light one often finds in window displays in malls and the few remaining department stores.

    Jackpot!!

    Paul better hurry up and add Microsoft to the list of defendants, along with blogs. He'd crack another 13 billion in no time flat!


    How to ruin your reputation and legacy all at the same time.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 28th, 2010 @ 5:37am

    What a Wazoo. The ultimate failure comes back to haunt us. I read those patents. Most of them cover the normal tasks of a computer. We were writing memory resident programs to get the users attention and to add value to a otherwise non-multi-tasking OS before Paul Allen even knew what a computer was.
    Remember Lotus. They sued themselves out of existence. Maybe IBM will rescue Paul Allen too.
    We want to follow this case closely because it looks like the days of garage innovation are over! It looks like we cannot write any software anymore without violating someones patent. Goodbye innovation and welcome to the great depression. Without freedom to innovate in this country we run the risk of making no products.
    Manufacturing of our products is all done offshore and without our garage guys we are losers. Every major tech company in this country started in someones garage, bedroom or workshop, not a corporate office or lab with the correct clearances and fees paid.

     

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    Sirpa Aggarwal (profile), Aug 28th, 2010 @ 1:53pm

    The WSJ article re. the patents

    I wanted to make a correction to your article: The Wall Street Journal author (Dionne Searcey) did in fact list the four patents in question in the article dated August 28th, on page A4.

     

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    Gene Cavanaugh, Aug 29th, 2010 @ 10:10am

    Paul Allen, patent troll

    Total agreement here, Mike.

    Especially with "continuation" patents, which are now always misused to allow the effect of a "lemellson" patent, we have a perfect storm of legislators desperate for campaign funds (and a cushy retirement), a patent system forced to be (in effect) for-profit but "for-the-country", and vicious people that are all too willing to game the system.

    My clients and I use the system for the common good; but more and more, there are scammers misusing it to our detriment.

     

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      cpp, Aug 30th, 2010 @ 8:47pm

      Re: Paul Allen, patent troll

      As the economy slips, expect to see an increased sense of entitlement to other peoples money.

       

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