Paul Allen left Microsoft in 1983, although he remains a major investor in the software giant. After leaving Microsoft, Allen undertook several business ventures, some of which crashed and burned pretty badly. Recently, Allen was one of the billionaires who, alongside Bill Gates, donated half of their fortune to charity.
The patents in this particular case were granted to Interval Research Corp., Allen's research laboratory in Palo Alto which went bankrupt. Interval Research was actually a real research laboratory, employing people like Robert Shaw, Max Mathews, and David Reed, one of the people behind TCP/IP. The company worked on technology Allen wanted to use for other ventures.
In any case, what remains of the company is a shell, with the clear stench of patent troll around it. Using four extremely vague (and dare I say it, obvious) patents, the company is suing (breathe): Apple, Google, AOL, Facebook, ebay, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo, and YouTube. Ominously missing are Microsoft and Amazon.
The patents in question are summarised perfectly by Ars. "The patents revolve around three main concepts: browser use for navigating through information, managing a user's peripheral attention while using a device, and alerting users to items of current interest," Ars' Jacqui Cheng details, "They collectively address the general concept of presenting searched-for information to a user along with related news articles, media (such as music or videos), status updates from friends, or data (such as stock or weather info)."
Allen himself didn't say anything about the case, but his spokesperson did. "Paul thinks this is important, not just to him but to the researchers at Interval who created this technology," said the spokesman, David Postman, "We recognize that innovation has a value, and patents are the way to protect that."
Google responded to the lawsuit by telling Ars Technica that this lawsuit is nothing but abuse of the patent system. "This lawsuit against some of America's most innovative companies reflects an unfortunate trend of people trying to compete in the courtroom instead of the marketplace," the Google spokesperson told Ars, "Innovation - not litigation - is the way to bring to market the kinds of products and services that benefit millions of people around the world."
Well, it's not as if Silicon Valley's finest aren't fascinated by patent lawsuits themselves, so I can hardly feel particularly sorry for them. With the enormous influence these large companies have, they could've done something about this already. The truth is, of course, that the likes of Google and Apple benefit greatly from the utterly broken US patent system and the completely incompetent USPTO.
Cry me a river. Let these idiots sue each other straight to hell.