Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen relaunched a wide-ranging patent lawsuit against Apple, Google, Facebook and others with specific allegations that the companies are illegally using technology owned by his company.
Interval Licensing, a small research company set up by Allen in 1992, originally filed a broad patent suit in federal court in Seattle in August, but Judge Marsha Pechman dismissed it on the grounds that it did not specify any actual products or devices. The revised suit was filed by Interval on Tuesday.
Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, claims Interval was central to research and development of technology in the Internet arena in the 1990s, amassing more than 300 patents and providing research assistance to Google.
In the suit, Allen's company claims four of its patents -- chiefly related to the way Web data is sorted and presented -- have been infringed by a number of successful companies.
The first patent concerns the generation of data related to information being browsed. Interval claims Google uses this technology to match advertisements from third parties to content being displayed, while AOL's sites use it to suggest items related to news stories.
Interval claims Apple's iTunes service uses the technology to suggest music based on a user's searches, and that eBay, Facebook, Netflix, Yahoo and Office Depot's sites have also infringed the patent in the way they direct users to related content.
The second and third patents concern relaying information on a computer screen in a peripheral, unobtrusive manner, such as in an instant messaging box or overlay.
Interval claims its patent has been infringed by features in AOL's Instant Messenger, Apple's Dashboard, Google Talk and Gmail Notifier, Google's Android phone system and Yahoo Widgets.
The fourth patent concerns alerting Web browsers to new items of interest based on activity of other users. Interval claims AOL uses this technology on its shopping sites, while Apple's iTunes uses it to recommend music.
Interval claims eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, Staples, Yahoo and Google's YouTube all have infringed the patent in the way they suggest content to users.
The suit makes no mention of Microsoft as a patent holder or infringer, even though Allen's former company offers products similar to some described in the suit. A spokesman for Allen declined to comment on the suit.
Allen, 57, is the world's 37th richest person, according to Forbes magazine. He resigned as a Microsoft executive in 1983. Since then, he has funded scientific and medical research through his Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and invested in many projects in his native Seattle and Pacific Northwest region.
Interval has asked the court for damages and a ban on products that use the disputed patents. It is unclear how seriously the court, or the companies he has targeted, will take Allen's legal charges.
"We believe this suit is completely without merit and we will fight it vigorously," a Facebook spokesman said in an e-mail.
EBay declined to comment. AOL, Apple, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, Staples and Yahoo did not immediately respond to requests for a comment.
The case is C10-1385 MJP in the U.S District Court Western District of Washington at Seattle.
(Reporting by Bill Rigby; Editing by Derek Caney, Dave Zimmerman).