Paul Allen: Microsoft co-founder, tech pioneer -- and patent troll?

The Microsoft co-founder is suing Apple, Google, Facebook, and others for allegedly violating his patents. Cringely has to ask: Why?

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At least Interval filed in the Western District of Washington and not the Eastern District of Texas, where patent trolls sprout up like mushrooms after a long spring rain and no one is turned away without at least a $100 million settlement.

The reaction across the blogosphere has been a collective "huh?"

ITworld's Steven Jay Vaughn-Nichols is scratching his head over why Allen, rich beyond any normal mortal's dreams, would bother with kind of suit:

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?

The Seattle Times' Brier Dudley thinks Allen, who recently underwent treatments for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, is just trying to add to his legacy.

Usually patent-licensing deals are quieter. Companies often reach settlements before any lawsuits are filed, or they make licensing deals that draw little attention.... Even if Allen loses, the lawsuit told the world that Allen funded early research into the sort of technology used by Apple, Google, Facebook and others.... In other words, the lawsuit has called out otherwise obscure work that Allen bankrolled in the dawn of the Web era.

Forbes' Quentin Hardy takes a somewhat less charitable view.

Allen is basically famous for being the guy who convinced Gates to leave Harvard.... Since then he’s done a bunch of other “big picture” things that haven’t made good relative to the vision. His most notable investment may be buying and selling Ticketmaster, an outfit which has managed to make every concertgoer in the United States feel ripped off. He has also built the Experience Music Project and the Sci-Fi Museum, two of the great monuments to an American adolescence.... Which makes me wonder if this isn’t a claim to intellectual legitimacy as much as to payment.

What does Paul Allen want? Money? Recognition? A guest spot on "Dancing With the Stars"? Or maybe just the attention his contemporaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates got, but he didn't?

In any event, this is the first chapter in what's likely to be painful, drawn-out, hopelessly boring litigation that will end up making a lot of attorneys rich, but do very little for anyone else. I can't help thinking it will tarnish, not burnish, Allen's reputation.

Also: Be careful what you click on next. You may be participating in a patent violation.

Should you be able to patent a generic process? Where do you draw the line? Weigh in below or email me:

This article, "Paul Allen: Microsoft co-founder, tech pioneer -- and patent troll?," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringeley's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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