At first sight, this extraordinary legal action against most of the digital world's leading lights might seem one of a kind:
Interval Licensing LLC ("Interval"), a Paul G. Allen company, filed a complaint today in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Washington against major internet search and e-commerce companies alleging that they have infringed on four patents held by Interval. The eleven defendants are AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube.
Interval Licensing holds patents of Interval Research, the former company founded by Allen and David Liddle in 1992 to perform advanced research and development in the areas of information systems, communications, and computer science. The patents in the lawsuit cover fundamental web technologies first developed at Interval Research in the 1990s, which the company believes are being infringed by major e-commerce and web search companies.
But I believe that at its heart, Allen's move springs from the same motivations that lie behind Larry Ellison's equally surprising attack on Google.
Allen's lawsuits look like classic patent trolling. There are just four patents involved, all incredibly broad. This means that on the face of it, probably every company involved with Internet activities “infringes” on them. Take, for example, this one:
The invention facilitates and enhances review of a body of information (that can be represented by a set of audio data, video data, text data or some combination of the three), enabling the body of information to be quickly reviewed to obtain an overview of the content of the body of information.
What is described, as the accompanying drawing makes clear, is essentially most Web pages, with information drawn from various sources being brought together. The trouble is, the filing date for this idea is 5 December 1996 and I - along with several million other early Internet explorers - was routinely using this stuff from 1994.