Microsoft Co-Founder Fails In Patent Mega-Suit

Dennis Faas's picture

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has failed in a bid to win patent damages against numerous online retailers, as well as Google and YouTube. He's been given until late December to come up with more specific claims.

Allen's lawsuit named AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Yahoo and YouTube, plus retailers Officemax, Office Depot and Staples. But a federal judge said Allen hadn't been specific enough in his filing, meaning "the court and defendants are left to guess what devices infringe on the four patents." (Source:

Patent Copyrights Date back to 1992

The patents belong to Interval Research, a company Allen set up in 1992 after leaving Microsoft. Rather than producing finished products, the main aim of the company was to develop and then patent ideas that could be licensed to other firms.

The four patents mentioned in the case seem very generic, even considering the tech landscape in 1992. One is for an "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of A Display Device" -- in other words, putting advertisements, news updates, stock prices and other information alongside a main article on a page.

Another appears to simply cover the idea of a search tool that can cope with multimedia content. The final patent relates to a familiar online retail trick: suggesting other products based on a consumer's purchase or perusing history. (Source:

Microsoft, Amazon Elude Patent List

There is one item that wasn't on the list which generated quite a bit of discussion when Allen first filed his case. Surprisingly, it's not for the companies mentioned, but rather for one of the companies that was not mentioned. More specifically, it's about, which would appear to have made a more high-profile use of the suggestion link feature than any other major site.

Were Allen to give more specific detail of how the defendants have breached the patents, it might also be clearer why Microsoft is also absent from the list. At the moment it seems odd that so many major online companies are mentioned, yet Allen's former company escapes the claims.

Allen's original filing not only doesn't mention which products violate the patents, but is so vague that it's not clear whether each company has breached the patent itself or merely encouraged third parties to do so.

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