Updated 12:09 p.m. PDT with additional information and background and at 12:42 p.m. PDT with comment from the plaintiffs.
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen fired a patent shot across the bow of several prominent technology companies Friday, suing Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others over patent claims.
Allen's firm Interval Licensing filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the above companies, as well as AOL, eBay, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, and Staples, are violating patents he received for several Internet technologies while leading Interval Research, now out of business. The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, based in Seattle.
Interval said in a press release that "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." David Postman, a spokesman for Allen, said this is the first time that patents related to Interval Research's work have been litigated.
Postman wouldn't comment on whether licensing discussions had taken place with the defendants prior to the filing of the lawsuit, but did say that all companies were informed that Interval held "patents of interest." The companies targeted were done so because of their work in e-commerce and search, Postman said. For example, Interval included as an exhibit in its lawsuit a screen grab of a very early "About Google" Web page from 1998 that lists Interval Research Corporation as an outside collaborator.
One may wonder why Allen's former company--Microsoft, which operates the third-leading search engine in the U.S. and now provides search technology to Yahoo--was not cited in the complaint. Postman said he would not discuss litigation strategies but emphasized that Interval is not necessarily done with these patents; in that, it might seek to widen the circle of defendants at a later date.
Representatives for Apple and Google did not immediately return requests for comment. However, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said "We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously."
The story was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Four specific patents are being cited in the case, according to Interval's release:
No. 6,263,507, "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data."
No. 6,034,652, "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device."
No. 6,788,314, "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device."
No. 6,757,682, "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest."
Allen founded Microsoft with Bill Gates ages ago, but hasn't played a prominent role at the company in years. He has since invested in a number of ventures in both the technology and entertainment worlds, and organizes his business and philanthropic activities through a firm called Vulcan.
Digeo, an Allen-backed maker of DVR technology, aggressively asserted patents against various companies about five years ago in various lawsuits against PalmSource, Audible.com, and Gemstar. Digeo was sold to Arris Group in 2009.
A copy of the complaint follows below:Paul Allen Interval Research patent lawsuit
CNET's Caroline McCarthy contributed to this report