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Amazon hits back at IBM over patents

E-commerce giant bashes suit, lodges its own patent infringement claims. Big Blue stands by allegations.

A patent feud between IBM and took a new twist this week as the e-commerce giant countersued Big Blue for infringement and blasted its earlier accusations as "meritless and misleading."

In Thursday filings with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, the Seattle-based Internet retailer denied infringing on five IBM patents and claimed that just the opposite situation was occurring.

"IBM has chosen to infringe's patents willfully and to obtain the commercial benefits of's technology without authorization or compensation," attorneys for the company wrote in their responses to IBM's patent infringement allegations.

In late October, IBM filed two separate suits that accuse Amazon of infringing on patents covering topics ranging from advertising to hyperlink technology to a system for electronically ordering items.

Amazon in its response said IBM never should have earned the patents in question because they were not novel and nonobvious, and their specifications were not crafted in the "full, clear, concise and exact terms" required by federal patent law.

"IBM's broad allegations of infringement amount to a claim that IBM invented the Internet," Amazon's lawyers wrote. "If IBM's claims are believed, then not only must pay IBM, but everyone conducting electronic commerce over the World Wide Web (indeed, every Web site and potentially everyone who uses a Web browser to surf the Web) must pay IBM a toll for the right to do so."

Amazon's countersuit goes on to accuse IBM's WebSphere application server and other information management services and products of infringing on five Amazon patents. Those patents cover systems related to search queries, personalized recommendations and identification of related products.

An IBM representative on Friday dismissed the new assertions and said the company wasn't about to drop its earlier suits. "The evidence in these two lawsuits will show Amazon's infringement of IBM's leading-edge technology, plain and simple," spokeswoman Kendra Collins said.

Furthermore, Amazon's counterclaims "ring hollow" and represent "nothing more than a transparent litigation ploy," Collins said, because Amazon never brought up concerns over those patents during four years of cross-licensing discussions with IBM.

In court filings, IBM said it first approached Amazon in 2002 to seek licensing fees for use of its technology. IBM, which holds more than 40,000 patents worldwide, filed its pair of complaints after encountering what it characterized as "stonewalling" from Amazon on that front.

Amazon in its latest response said it refused to pay licensing fees because it believed the IBM patents in question were obtained through deceptive means and were thus invalid. The e-tailer also questioned why IBM waited until just after Amazon's first profitable quarter to "demand money" for alleged infringement when it had held the disputed patents since the mid-1990s.

Amazon's filing also sought to portray Big Blue as a patent speculator, or "troll," suggesting that three of the patents at issue were "not even developed at IBM but rather were bought from a now-defunct company for the apparent purpose of threatening other companies with litigation like this to extract licensing payments."

IBM's Collins said Thursday's complaint "relies on caustic rhetoric rather than facts to distract attention from (Amazon's) own infringement of IBM's patents."

Amazon, which currently owns more than 60 U.S. patents, has endured criticism over the years for patenting features--most notoriously its 1-Click checkout system--that some have deemed too obvious to warrant protection. At the same time, CEO Jeff Bezos has been among the high-tech executives clamoring for changes to patent law such as limits on how long software and business method patents can be held.