A federal judge on Friday dismissed a patent infringement lawsuit filed by billionaire MIcrosoft co-founder Paul Allen against Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, and seven other companies three months ago.
"Plaintiff has failed to identify the infringing products or devices with any specificity," wrote U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman in her order to dismiss. "The Court and Defendants are left to guess what devices infringe on the four patents."
Allen's lawsuit claimed that 11 companies -- AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo and YouTube -- violated four patents developed by Internal Research, a Silicon Valley research lab he funded in 1992.
The lab shut its doors in 2000, but later transferred the patents to Interval Licensing, a patent-holding company also owned by Allen.
The two patents that made up the bulk of the claims were 6,263,507, "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data," and 6,757,682, "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest." Allen's lawsuit alleges that all but Facebook violated the '507 patent, and all 11 companies infringed the '682 patent.
AOL, Apple, Google and Yahoo were the only companies said to have allegedly violated all four patents.
In late October, Google and Yahoo asked Pechman to dismiss the charges, arguing that Allen's lawsuit was thin on specifics.
"Interval is not entitled to waste Court and party resources with a scattershot Complaint against multiple Defendants that fails to give any indication as to which products or services Interval contends are infringing and the factual basis for such a claim," Google asserted in its motion.
Apple, Facebook and the other defendants filed similar motions for dismissal.
"Plaintiff only indicates that Defendants have Web sites, hardware, and software that infringe on the patents or that they are encouraging third parties to use products that infringe on the patents," she said in her Friday order. "These allegations are insufficient to put Defendants on 'notice as to what [they] must defend.'"
Allen can file an amended complaint by Dec. 28, but must spell out in detail how the 11 defendants have infringed on Interval's patents.
"In amending the complaint, Plaintiff must identify which of Defendants' products, devices, or schemes allegedly infringe on Plaintiff's patents," Pechman said. "Plaintiff should, where possible, set forth the specific Web sites that are at issue and identify the hardware and software with adequate detail for Defendants to know what portions of their business operations are in play in this litigation."
A spokesman for Allen did not immediately reply Saturday to a request for comment on Pechman's order.
Earlier this year Forbes put Allen, 57, in the No. 37 spot on its world's richest list. His estimate net worth as of September was $12.7 billion.
Also last week, Allen gave $26 million to Washington State University (WSU) to complete its new School for Global Animal Health. Allen attended WSU for two years in the 1970s before leaving to take a programming job with Honeywell.
Allen and Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1975.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.