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Microsoft Co-Founder Sues Major Tech Companies

Publication Date: 
August 28, 2010
National Public Radio - All Things Considered
Laura Sydell

Professor Mark Lemley talks to Laura Sydell of NPR's All Things Considered about Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's patent suit against Silicon Valley companies including Apple, Google, eBay, Yahoo, and Facebook:

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is reaching back in time to file a lawsuit against some of the best-known technology companies of today. Allen contends that Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo all breached patents owned by one of his former start-ups.


Professor MARK LEMLEY (Law, Stanford Law School; Patent Attorney): You have to be first, but it's not enough to be first.

SYDELL: That's Mark Lemley, a patent Attorney who teaches at Stanford Law School. Lemley says just because you do something that no one else has done before doesn't mean it's worth a patent.

Prof. LEMLEY: So, somebody was the first person to decide you could sell pet food on the Internet. But if you could sell 20 other things on the Internet, the conclusion, oh, I could sell pet food on the Internet isn't patentable because it's obvious.

SYDELL: Or at least Lemley thinks that certain concepts should not get patents. But the ones cited in the complaint from Interval are patented. Lemley doesn't think that means much because many of the patents were given at a time when the U.S. Patent Office was a mess.

Prof. LEMLEY: When the patent office in this field was pretty notorious for lax control, wasn't doing a very good job of finding and weeding out the good from the bad patents.


SYDELL: Paul Allen is not an investor in Amazon. But, indeed, patent attorney Lemley thinks keeping it off the list may be a way to make the Seattle court and any possible local jury more sympathetic.

Prof. LEMLEY: If you want to play hometown favorite and sue in Seattle, you're probably better off not suing other hometown favorites.