updated 06:25 pm EST, Wed February 8, 2012
Company expands patent litigation
A Texas court is finally ready to hear arguments in a high-profile patent lawsuit that names tech giants Google, Amazon and Yahoo among a list of defendants. The companies are attempting to defend themselves against a suit filed by a patent holding company, Eolas Technologies, that accuses the group of violating several patents related to "interactive web" technology.
The lawsuit, which was initially filed in 2009, argues that Eolas owns the rights to core technology that allows interactive features to be embedded in many websites. The technology was allegedly developed by biologist Michael Doyle nearly two decades ago during his time at the University of California, which now is a part owner of Eolas.
Some opponents to the lawsuit, including web pioneer Tim Bernes-Lee, have travelled to the small city of Tyler, Texas—a hotspot for patent litigation—to argue against the validity of the patents in question. The defendants claim that equivalent technology was first introduced by other parties, rather than Eolas, and failing to invalidate the patents threatens to cause significant damage to industries that rely on the Internet.
Eolas has already had a chance to test its litigation strategy in court, beginning with a 1999 lawsuit against Microsoft. A jury verdict initially awarded the patent holder with a $521 million payout, though Microsoft is believed to have settled for over $100 million after pushing the case through the appeals process.
The case is one of many lawsuits described by some as "patent trolling," filed by a company that relies on licensing fees and litigation profits rather than offering its own products based on the patented technology. University researchers have estimated the cost of such litigation to surpass $500 billion since 1990, and steadily increasing from year to year.
The latest Eolas case is only in the first of four trials, initially focusing on the validity of the patents before moving on to infringement trials. Other defendants include GoDaddy, JC Penny, Staples, and CDW; most of the original defendants, including Apple, eBay, and Playboy, settled out of court for undisclosed sums. [via Ars Technica]