Web Firm Sues For Google Jackpot

Dennis Faas's picture

A web server company is suing Google claiming that many of its services, including AdWords, Blogger and YouTube are all infringements of its patents.

The suit by GraphOn Corporation claims all these systems copy its patented technology for "unique method of maintaining an automated and network-accessible database". The firm is seeking unspecified damages, plus "permanent injunctive relief" -- in other words, a court order stopping Google from using the technology. (Source: yahoo.com)

Google says it hasn't yet received official notice of the suit and therefore isn't commenting. (Source: cnet.com)

In theory this could be disastrous for Google -- if they've breached the patents, most of their spin-off businesses would be dead in the water. However, things aren't that clear-cut as the patents are so generalized it's very questionable whether they'd be enforceable.

You can see a summary of one of the patents, which dates back to 1995 at: uspto.gov. There's also a full copy available.

The summary is such a vague and general description that it pretty much looks as if GraphOn is claiming complete rights to the entire concept of a database-powered website. While the patent has been renewed several times since then, there's a very good chance (in my non-lawyer opinion) that a court would either rule GraphOn can't protect the general concept, or that other firms aren't copying the precise details listed in the full patent.

Indeed, the firm has thrown lawsuits at several major web companies in the past few years, including AutoTrader, Juniper, Match.com, Yahoo and eHarmony. It appears that no court has ever ruled on the issue. AutoTrader did reach a settlement and now pay a license fee to GraphOn, but an out-of-court settlement like this doesn't establish any precedence which GraphOn could use in court.

Of course, nobody knows what would actually happen if the Google suit reached court. However, given their far from slam-dunk case and the likely financial cost of doing battle with Google's lawyers, it doesn't seem particularly cynical to suspect GraphOn will be happy if Google offers a cash settlement to make them go away.

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