Back in August, many people were surprised that Paul Allen had suddenly decided to go full on patent troll
, using a bunch of patents he had received as part of his complete business failure, Interval Research, during the 90s. Interval was supposed to be kind of like Xerox PARC, a research center focused on inventing the future, but the plan was to actually commercialize what came out of the labs. However, in the end, Interval did little of anything and, after spending many of Allen's Microsoft millions, shut down. Yet, years later, he suddenly starts suing a ton of companies over incredibly broad patents? In this initial lawsuit (apparently more are planned), he sued Google (and separately, YouTube), Apple, AOL, eBay, Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo, Office Depot, OfficeMax and Staples. Earlier this month, we noted that the lawsuit had been dismissed
due to the failure by Allen to actually explain how these companies violated his patents. Of course, as mentioned at the time, he was free to try again, and everyone knew he would. He has now filed that amended complaint
, complete with the "details" of what each of these companies has done that's infringing, and it's even more ridiculous than we originally thought.
As a reminder, here are the patents he's suing over:
- 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"
We have the full amended filing embedded below, but his claims of what's infringing are ridiculously broad. For the first patent (the '507 patent), he basically seems to be claiming that any website that offers a listing of "related items" or uses any kind of spam filter is infringing. Basically, that's a huge percentage of content-based websites out there. Does anyone really (honestly, now) believe that without such a patent, the idea of "related content" or spam filters would never have been developed?
Then there's the next two (related) patents ('652 and '314), about "peripheral attention." According to Allen, the use of products that pop up a little notifier in the corner of your screen window violate this patent: so AOL, Google and Yahoo all violate this because of the little instant messenger/email pop up tools they offer. Apple supposedly violates this because of the Apple Dashboard and related widgets that pop up information such as sports scores and weather. Really, Paul? You want to claim ownership of any system that pops up information in the corner of your screen? That's sickeningly broad.
Finally, the last patent (the '682 patent), he appears to be claiming that it covers making recommendations
to users on things they might like. So, the fact that AOL will alert you to products you might like? Infringing. Same with all the other companies, who all offer basic recommendations of one form or another because offering recommendations is one of the most obvious things out there
To say that Allen's interpretation of what these patents cover is extraordinarily broad would be to downplay the concept of broad interpretations of patents. Allen's interpretations are so broad as to make a mockery of the entire patent system, and how ridiculous concepts put forth in a patent can (years later) cover a significant number of all websites out there, all doing obvious things to make their websites useful to users. Honestly, reading through the details makes me wonder if the conspiracy theory that some have put forth -- that Allen is doing this just to demonstrate how silly patents have become
-- seems somewhat more plausible. I still don't really believe that, but either way, this lawsuit certainly represents the madness of the patent system.