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Paul Allen revises patent suit, targets Android, Apple iTunes

Beats deadline for filing amended complaint, lists wide array of online software, services

December 29, 2010 01:20 PM ET

Computerworld - Billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen yesterday filed a last-minute revision of a patent infringement lawsuit against 11 technology companies to include detailed claims that targeted Google's Android operating system, Apple's iTunes and App Store and Facebook's "Like" feature.

The amended complaint, which was obtained by the Seattle Times, was posted to the federal court system's database early Wednesday.

Two weeks ago, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman tossed Allen's original lawsuit, saying it was so vague that its "allegations are insufficient to put Defendants 'on notice' as to what [they] must defend."

Pechman gave Allen until Dec. 28 to submit a revised complaint.

Allen's original August lawsuit claimed 11 companies -- AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo and YouTube -- violated four patents developed by Internal Research, a Palo Alto, Calif. research lab Allen 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 new 35-page complaint lists a dizzying range of online services -- and desktop and Web software -- that allegedly violate those patents.

According to Interval's lawsuit, Google infringes on Patent 6,034,652 by "making, using, selling, distributing, and encouraging customers to use devices containing the Android Operating System and associated software such as Text Messaging, Google Talk, Google Voice, and Calendar."

Patent 6,034,652, dubbed "Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device," spells out a way to notify users of additional information.

"Devices containing the Android Operating System and associated software infringe by displaying information including, e.g., text messages, Google Voice messages, chat messages, and calendar events, to a user of a mobile device in an unobtrusive manner," claimed the lawsuit.

Interval alleged that AOL's AIM instant messaging client, Apple's Dashboard, Google's Desktop, Yahoo's Messenger also infringed the '652 patent.

Android violates a second patent, 6,788,314, as well, said Interval.

Both the '652 and '314 patents have been infringed not just by Android and the devices that rely on the mobile operating system, said Interval, but also by the "Android Market infrastructure," a reference to Google's App Store-like e-mart for Android applications.

That puts Android developers in the crosshairs, said Florian Mueller, a blogger who covers patent issues related to open-source software.

"If any of those infringement assertions against Android is true, this can spell trouble for makers of Android-based devices, and for Android application developers," Mueller wrote in a Wednesday blog.

"Should Google be served an injunction as a result of Interval's suit, owners of Android phones would experience a very significant degradation of the user experience," Mueller asserted.

Interval singled out Android; it did not also name Apple's iOS operating system as infringing the four patents.

Other software and services that purportedly violate Interval's patents include Apple's iTunes music store, App Store, Apple TV and Ping social networking service; Google's search, its AdSense targeted text advertisements, and its Talk, Reader and Gmail software; Facebook's "Like" and "News Feed" features; Netflix's TV and movie recommendations; and Yahoo Connected TV and Widgets.

Interval has asked that Pechman bar the companies from further infringement -- which, if granted, might require the firms to shutter the named services and stop distributing the identified software until changes were made -- and that the defendants be required to pay damages to be decided by a jury.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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