Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is suing some of tech industry’s biggest players including Google, Apple, Facebook and eBay for allegedly violating four patents which are the basis of some of the companies’ most popular software products.
Although Allen, who is one of the world’s richest men, admits in his Federal Court complaint he did not develop the software, he nevertheless owns the patents. He says they were developed and registered at Interval Research Corp, a research and development lab financed by Allen during the 1990s.
According to Forbes, Allen is the 37th richest man in the world with a net worth of $US13.5 billion. He lost several billion during the financial crisis.
A suite of other companies were named in the complaint including AOL, Netflix, Office Depot, Staples, Yahoo and YouTube. Many have already rejected the lawsuit outright, saying it is without merit.
The complaint refers to four separate patents, all outlining pieces of software that are now used by thousands of tech companies everyday. They are:
- A method used by companies to suggest items to consumers, based on what they have already bought or are viewing.
- Software to enable ads, stock tickers, news updates or video images to appear on a screen in a type of widget-format.
- Two patents refer to software to allow news readers to locate stories related to the topic they are currently reading.
Interval Licensing filed the lawsuit last Friday, with spokesperson David Postman saying in a statement the patents are now the basis of some of the most popular features used by millions everyday.
“Interval Research was an early, ground-breaking contributor to the development of the internet economy,” Postman said. “Interval has worked hard to bring its technologies to market through spinning off new companies, technology transfer arrangements, and sales of its patented technology.”
“This lawsuit is necessary to protect our investment in innovation. We are not asserting patents that other companies have filed, nor are we buying patents originally assigned to someone else. These are patents developed by and for Interval.”
But Allen’s targets aren’t backing down, saying the lawsuit is without merit and will be thrown out of court. A Google spokesperson said in a statement the suit is disappointing.
“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,” the company says.
Facebook also replied, saying, “We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously.”
Both Microsoft and Amazon were not named in the lawsuit.
The case comes as patent infringement cases have become more popular over the past few years. Some experts say companies are being attracted by large infringement payouts.
Allen co-founded Microsoft in the 1970s with Bill Gates. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1983, and did not return to his role in the company after treatment. More recently, he acts as chairman of asset management group
Vulcan and has successfully beaten another cancer diagnosis.
Interval was founded by Allen in the 1970s, and employed over 110 engineers and scientists during its glory days in the 1990s. The company also helped fund various tech projects, including research completed by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page.