Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

Summary: The extent of the infringements outlined in Paul Allen's amended suit against Google, et al, feels oh so wrong. Read on and find out why.

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Paul Allen and his company, Interval Licensing, LLC, just met the deadline imposed by a US District Court judge for refiling their patent infringement suit against Apple, Google, Facebook, and several other companies when they amended their complaint yesterday. The suit was originally rejected earlier this month for being too vague. While it now contains more specifics, including screen shots from allegedly infringing websites, it remains unclear whether it will be sufficient to allow the lawsuit to move forward in court.

According to the Seattle Times,

Allen's suit alleges that his patents cover, among other things, systems that automatically call up and display related content. The approach is widely used by online retailers and other sites across the Web.

For instance, when viewing a product on Apple's iTunes store, the store automatically suggests related content that may be of interest. The suit filed today argues that this infringes on at least 20 claims made by a patent Allen holds.

The complaint specifically calls out Android (among other sites and companies, including Google's YouTube). Florian Mueller notes in his Foss Patents blog that,

There are two paragraphs that accuse Android. The first one:

44. Defendant Google has infringed and continues to infringe at least claims 4, 8, 11, 15, 16, 17, and 18 of the ’652 patent under 35 U.S.C. § 271 by making, using, selling, distributing, and encouraging customers to use devices containing the Android Operating System and associated software such as Text Messaging, Google Talk, Google Voice, and Calendar. Devices containing the Android Operating System and associated software infringe by displaying information including, e.g., text messages, Google Voice messages, chat messages, and calendar events, to a user of a mobile device in an unobtrusive manner that occupies the peripheral attention of the user. For example, as demonstrated by Exhibit 24, when a user receives a new Google Voice message, the Android Operating System and Google Voice software display a notification in the status bar screen for a short period of time.

The relevant patent is US Patent No. 6,034,652 on an "attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device".

Seriously? Notification icons? Really? Maybe Paul Allen was just a genius with more foresight than Nostradamus, but Android is hardly the only portable OS to provide unobtrusive notices of text messages. I don't think many of us would want our phones ringing and blinking like those restaurant buzzers that tell you your table is ready every time we get a text. What gets me even more than the idea of subtle notifications infringing on the patents is the idea that the infringements can extend to so many Google properties.

Mueller goes on to discuss potential ripple effects across the entire Android ecosystem:

If any of those infringement assertions against Android is true, this can spell trouble for makers of Android-based devices, and for Android application developers. The two paragraphs I quoted state clearly that the alleged infringement is an issue of "devices containing the Android Operating System", and the "Android Market infrastructure" is mentioned in the same context.

He's right, of course. However, this just seems so extraordinarily trumped up and blown out of proportion that I struggle to envision an plaintiff victory here.

Interestingly, while Apple is named in the complaint, apparently the notifications on its iPhones and iPads aren't sufficiently subtle to violate patents like Android's. And since Microsoft isn't named anywhere in the suit, one can only assume that those restaurant buzzers are really Windows Phone 7 devices in disguise.

One other particularly distressing component of the complaint (follow the link to read a PDF of the entire, bizarre amended filing) relates to YouTube (as well as all of the other sites and services that recommend content based on a specific search):

YouTube operates the YouTube.com website, which provides content such as videos and advertisements to users.  In order to help users find additional content that may be of interest, the software and hardware that operate this website compare the available content items to determine whether they are related.  When a user views a particular content item, the YouTube.com website generates a display of related content items so as to inform the user that the related items may be of interest.  For example, as demonstrated by Exhibit 18, when a user views a video page on YouTube.com, the YouTube.com website displays both the selected video information (identified by the red box) and links to other related videos and advertisements (identified by the green boxes)

So essentially Paul Allen holds the patents to the fledgling underpinnings of semantic search. Again, REALLY!?!?!?

If Allen wins this suit, analysts believe that he could win as much as half a billion dollars. 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.

Topics: Social Enterprise, Apple, Google, Legal

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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87 comments
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  • Rehheheheally?

    Troll
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, Your Linux Advocate Agreed! I wonder if the motivation is to get rid of WP7 competitors... after all Paul Allen does have a vested interest in Microsoft and getting rid of iOS and Android would open the market up for WP7.

      For all the Apple Haters, Android Haters, and MS fanboys out there I'm not hating on MS or saying MS has anything to do with this but explaining a possible motive on Paul Allen's part.
      athynz
      • or that WindblowsPhone7 and apple really dont infringe?

        nothing against Android but for it to be the top of the top they have to quit stealing ideas from everything else - a "me too" atitude. look at all the crappy android tablets that aren't selling because they dont put anything new in them - just a cheap copy of everybody else.
        the Winblows Phone 7 will go on to be an EPIC+FAIL but at least they didn't copy from someone else - they came upo with that crappy tile screen all on their own!!
        Ron Bergundy
      • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

        @athynz Actually, cyberspammer2, Windows Phone 7 is just a clone of an Android device wherein the user has decided to only install widgets to the home screen.
        BIGELLOW
      • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

        @cyberspammer2 You rant does nothing to explain why Apple is also named in the suit... you just gripe about WP7
        athynz
      • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

        @athynz
        From what I read (mind you I?m not a lawyer), it seems that if there is a better implementation than a ?competing? Microsoft Product, the lawsuit is an effective way of killing the competition. This lawsuit is aimed at all of Microsoft?s competitors, that offer a better implementation, rather than a true infringement. Sound like a ?proxy attack" to me.
        Rick_K
      • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

        @Rick_K That is possible... I'm not saying MS has anything to do with it but I'm not saying they don't have anything to do with it either. They do stand the most to gain if the suit somehow makes it and Allen somehow wins.
        athynz
      • Allen, like MS invented nothing

        Just an extension of their previous bully tactics. What a sad company.

        The patent system is a joke, abuses are common.
        Richard Flude
    • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

      He might have legitimate patents on these broad concepts. I wonder what he hopes to accomplish. I suppose he needs the cash for holiday bills.
      Schoolboy Bob
      • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

        @Schoolboy Bob

        You can't patent a concept. You can only patent a method of implementation.
        msalzberg
  • air and water next?

    This is like Ford filing a lawsuit .vs. GM for using round tires.
    superiorfan
  • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

    The real problem here is the patent system you have there in the US. This is parasitism.
    miguelgilrosas
    • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

      @miguelgilrosas - no arguments whatsoever on that...

      Plus, for all these companies and representatives that otherwise claim "competition is good!", it's amazing to see how they either want to engage in price wars, lawsuits, or other tactics just to tear everybody down. I wish people would grow up and work together for common good instead of trashing everyone and everything.
      HypnoToad72
    • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

      @miguelgilrosas
      Yeah. The patent system here really needs to be redone - badly.
      ZackCDLVI
  • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

    Like I said before with the original suit Paul Allen's timing is rather suspect... He waited until all the above platforms were successful and decided to try to take them out. And liek I mentioned in my reply to DTS I have to wonder if this is a way for WP7 to gain marketshare... after all the smartphone market is huge right now and iOS and Android are very firmly entrenched. Paul Allen does have a vested interest in Microsoft and perhaps feels that WP7 cannot stand on it's own.

    And again this is not hate towards MS, WP7, or anyone (well other than that patent troll Allen) but simply pointing out a possible motive - other than more money and greed. Another possible motive could be more personal - IF this lawsuit makes it to court (not rejected for being to vague) and it somehow wins then Paul Allen would be the man who took down Google, Apple, Facebook, and the others listed in the lawsuit. I think it has an MS tie in because they are conspicuously absent from the lawsuits.
    athynz
    • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

      @athynz

      Sorry the timing is not suspect, it costs a lot of money to file a patent suit and go to completion so firms rarely do it till the infringing product is successful. What is a question is did Allen give notice to these firms when the product first came out?
      oldsysprog
      • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

        @oldsysprog It IS suspect in that he waited over 10 years to file the original suit that was recently thrown out - waited until these products and services were firmly entrenched and/ or successful... although you bring up a valid point in asking if Allen gave any of these companies any sort of notice - I had not heard anything either way. Did anyone else?
        athynz
  • WTF ?!?!

    Software and SOFTWARE related techniques and ideology SHOULD not be Patentable at ALL !! .... Copyrighted, yes , Patented a big NO !!!!
    linux4u
    • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

      @linux4u Yes, iut makes it easier to steal someone eleses idea that way doesn't it? Of course Linux would be dead if they the community couldn't steal from others...
      NoAxToGrind
      • RE: Paul Allen refiles lawsuit against Google, Apple, Facebook, others

        @NoAxToGrind
        What was stolen?
        daikon