Paul Allen amends lawsuit against Apple and others

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has filed a last-minute amendment to his patent infringement lawsuit against Apple, Facebook, Google and others, according to media reports. The amended suit targets Google’s Android mobile operating system in a move that could spell trouble for phone manufacturers and app developers.

Allen’s company Interval Licensing filed the lawsuit in August, alleging infringement of four U.S. patents related to search, multimedia and database management.

The suit targets Internet giants AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google and its subsidiary YouTube, Netflix and Yahoo, and office supplies companies Office Depot, Officemax and Staples.

A U.S. Federal judge dismissed the initial lawsuit earlier this month because it was too vague, giving Allen until Dec. 28 to file an amendment providing more details of his claims.

Allen’s lawyers responded in a 35-page document filed late Tuesday. The amendment, obtained by the Seattle Times and not yet listed in the court’s electronic filing system, details features of the defendants’ Websites that are alleged to infringe on the patents.

One of the patents, “Browser for Use in Navigating a Body of Information, With Particular Application to Browsing Information Represented By Audiovisual Data,” describes a method for identifying online content related to an item of interest.

The amended lawsuit accuses AOL of infringing the patent in its presentation of related news stories while Apple is accused of infringing the patent in its presentation of related content on its iTunes store. Similar items for sale on eBay, related photos on Facebook, news stories on Google Finance and even Netflix movie recommendations also infringe, the document claims.

Most bizarrely, spam filters offered by AOL’s e-mail service and Google’s Gmail are also accused of infringement because their classification of messages as spam depends in part of a comparison with other e-mail messages received, according to the filing.

Another patent asserted in the lawsuit, “Attention Manager for Occupying the Peripheral Attention of a Person in the Vicinity of a Display Device,” concerns the provision of information in an unobtrusive manner. The amendment accuses AOL Instant Messenger, Apple’s desktop widgets, and Google’s Android mobile OS of infringing it.

That could be bad news for a whole host of other companies, according to Florian Mueller, a blogger focussing on patents affecting 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.

Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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