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Self-Help Means Helping Others
published January 19, 2011
Global-Tech Appliances v. SEB S.A. is being brought to the Supreme Court for a ruling on intent requirement for inducement. Currently, the owner of a patent can sue those infringing upon the patent and also those who actively induce infringement. This case asks whether the law here should apply to only the person who encourages the infringement on the patent actively, or if it should be extended to those who disregard the risk of a patent infringement. Another case being ruled upon by the Supreme Court is Microsoft v. i4i Limited Partnership. The decision in this case will decide whether, if a patent is shown to be invalid, does that invalidity have to be proven by clear and convincing evidence?
Some of the biggest problems with technology intellectual property patents, though, can be seen in the lawsuits filed by Interval Licensing LLC, owned by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates. The suit is against AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube-virtually everyone save for Microsoft and Amazon, a subsidiary of Microsoft-and the infringement of patents that were owned by Interval Research, a company of Allen's from the 1990s.
The patents in the Allen case deal with web technologies. They are titled ''Browser for use in navigating a body of information, with particular application to browsing information represented by audiovisual data'' (patent no. 6,263,507), ''Attention manager for occupying the peripheral attention of a person in the vicinity of a display device'' (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), and ''Alerting users to items of current interest'' (6,757,682).
It is clear simply from the titles of these patents that they are in use by every search and entertainment site on the World Wide Web from suggestions for other videos to watch on YouTube to the News Feed on Facebook. Of course, Microsoft's search site Bing and Amazon's Continue Shopping features similarly mimic these patents, but aren't included in the lawsuit, conveniently.
Allen's suit shows the problem with technology patent filing with its recent amendment. After the court threw the original case out for being too vague, Allen's company filed a revised complaint which points out specific features of the companies in question that infringe upon Interval Licensing's original patents. Again, however, Allen's patents will most likely prove too generic, even for the time of their original creation.
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