Paul Allen's Lawsuits: What's up With That?

For years, decades, the big companies didn't tend to wage patent wars on each other. The reason is simple. Major patent holders don't tend to target other major patent holders because of MAD (mutually assured destruction). Or, in other words, if you sue me, I sue you, and we can both burn potentially hundreds of millions per year in legal costs just to conduct a business fight. Well, that was the case until Oracle went after Google and now Paul Allen is suing the world.

OK, well maybe not the world, but his company, Interval Licensing, is suing AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube for violating one or more of four patents. These patents are Patent No. 6,263,507, for "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented ;" Patent No. 6,034,652, for "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device;" Patent No. 6,788,314, for "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device;" and Patent No. 6,757,682, for "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest."

David Postman, a spokesman for Allen, said that Interval Research was a "groundbreaking contributor" to the development of the commercial Internet and that the patents are fundamental to the ways leading e-commerce and search companies continue to operate." I say this is nonsense.

I am not a lawyer, but I have used the Web almost since day one and I was using the Internet for more than a decade before the Web ever showed up. I've read these patents and they all scream prior art to me.

I think the patents that Oracle is using against Google are weak, but with our fouled-up patent legal system in the U.S. they may hold up. I can't imagine Allen's patents holding up.

That aside, I don't understand why Allen is launching these patent attacks.

Allen, according to Forbes, was worth 11.5-billion dollars in 2009 thanks to his Microsoft investments. He doesn't need the money, so why is he acting like a patent troll?

Patent trolls, which do nothing with patents but hold them until someone creates something real and then they try to swoop in to grab profits, have everything to gain and little to lose though by attacking big companies. Alas, this fouled-up result of the U.S. patent system works well for trolls. But, why should Allen do this?

Now, I think I know why Oracle is doing what it's doing, a lot of other Oracle watchers agree with me. Oracle wants to make money in the short term and trying to reestablish control over the Java family in the long run. Lots of luck with that last one by the way Oracle.

But, as to what Allen is doing ... I don't have a clue. Again, he has more riches than many countries. Microsoft surely didn't want him to do it.

I think Microsoft will be the ones closest to him to suffer. If I were a multibillion-dollar company, I'd be tempted to use my own patent arsenal on the source of Allen's wealth: Microsoft. Surely he doesn't want that. No one in big business, except patent trolls, would.

Besides, as I said, I don't think these patents have any chance of standing up to a PTO (Patent and Trademark Office) review. Oracle's patents are very shaky. Allen's patents could stand as examples of why the PTO isn't competent to grant IP (intellectual property) patents. They also stand as fine instances of why granting IP patents of any kind is a dumb move anyway.

The ultimate result of this, even if it doesn't end up with a gigantic corporate patent war, will be to increase prices on technology as companies pour money into patent attacks and defense. You didn't think those companies were going to pull that money out of profits, did you? Thanks, Mr. Allen. We appreciate it.

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