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Microsoft co-founder sues major tech companies

Paul Allen's suit accuses Apple, Google, Facebook, AOL, Yahoo and others of infringing on intellectual property owned by his firm, Interval Licensing.

August 27, 2010|By John Letzing

Reporting from San Francisco — Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen has filed a lawsuit alleging that Apple Inc., Google Inc., Facebook Inc., AOL Inc., Yahoo Inc. and others have infringed on intellectual property owned by Allen's Interval Licensing.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Friday, Interval Licensing alleges that the list of companies, a virtual who's who of Silicon Valley and the Internet industry, have violated four of the firm's patents.

Allen co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975 and later left to follow a number of pursuits, including the investment firm Vulcan Ventures. Interval Licensing was founded in 1992 by Allen and David Liddle, a venture capitalist and New York Times Co. board member.

In the lawsuit, Interval Licensing says it provided initial research funding for Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, which "resulted in Google."

Interval Licensing alleges infringement of patents issued between 2000 and 2004, related to Internet browser technology and the display of information.

Other named defendants in the suit include EBay Inc., Netflix Inc., OfficeMax Inc. and Staples Inc.

Interval Licensing asks for unspecified damages and an injunction preventing the defendants from further infringement or "a royalty for post-judgment infringement."

Allen, who publicly disclosed that he'd been diagnosed with non- Hodgkin's lymphoma late last year, is the owner of the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team and the Seattle Seahawks football team.

He has remained a prolific inventor in his post-Microsoft years.

In addition to his work with Interval Licensing, Allen has contributed to inventions patented by Intellectual Ventures, the intellectual property firm run by former Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold.

Intellectual Ventures has churned out tens of thousands of patents and has drawn criticism for its focus on patenting inventions, as opposed to making or selling products based on those inventions. Such "non-practicing" entities are often blamed for the rise in patent litigation, though Intellectual Ventures has not directly filed litigation over its intellectual property.

Letzing writes for MarketWatch.com/McClatchy.

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