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Microsoft Co-Founder Paul Allen Sues Apple, AOL, Google, Facebook, Others

Lawsuit alleges Yahoo, eBay, YouTube, Office Depot infringed on Web search patents

Goliath is going after a whole gang of Goliaths.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is suing web giants Apple, Google, AOL, Facebook, eBay, Yahoo, YouTube and three of the nation’s biggest office supply stores (Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples) alleging they infringed on web search-related patents his company, Interval Licensing, holds.

Allen filed the lawsuit in Seattle on Friday. He's seeking unspecified damages.

Interval says that it holds patents on web-search technologies it developed in the early 1990s, and that the 11 companies named in the lawsuit violated those patents while developing their search and e-commerce businesses.

(Read the whole lawsuit.)

Facebook is vowing to fight the suit. "We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously,"  spokesman Andrew Noyes said in a statement Friday afternoon. In another statement, Google added that the suit "reflects an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace." (Representatives at the other companies named did not immediately respond or were unable to be reached.)

It’s hard to see how Allen would own the “technologies” claimed the patents, as they are more or less fundamental to how the internet works.

One patent is for an “invention” entitled "Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented by Audiovisual Data”; another is called "Alerting Users to Items of Current Interest."

(Using that logic, it would appear that Microsoft did, too, though the company is not named in the suit.)

"Interval Research was an early, groundbreaking contributor to the development of the internet economy," David Postman, a spokesman for Allen, said in a statement announcing the suit. "Interval has worked hard to bring its technologies to market through spinning off new companies, technology transfer arrangements, and sales of its patented technology … This lawsuit is necessary to protect our investment in innovation.”

"This isn’t a tiny company harassing a few big ones in hope of shaking loose some easy settlement cash," ZDNet's Ed Bott noted. "These patents were filed when the commercial web was still in its infancy."

Allen formed the company, then called Interval Research, in 1992.

He founded Microsoft in 1975 with Bill Gates.