Got E-Commerce? Paul Allen Wants Your Money

Written by Frank Hayes
January 6th, 2011

If your E-Commerce site shows customers related products or makes product recommendations, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen wants money from you. That’s the upshot of an amended lawsuit that Allen’s company, Interval Licensing, filed last Tuesday (Dec. 28) against Staples, Office Depot and OfficeMax, along with eBay, Netflix, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Apple and AOL.

And if that list sounds familiar, it’s because Interval sued all those companies last August for patent infringement. That lawsuit was thrown out for being too vague about what the defendants had done wrong. The new version is very specific—and what happens to the Big Three of office supplies in this case will pretty much dictate what all other E-tailers can and can’t do.

For U.S. E-tailers, there’s a tiny bit of good news in the new version of this lawsuit: It’s no longer a vague, mysterious threat. Now it’s clear what Allen wants: royalties from every E-Commerce site that shows related products or customer recommendations. In other words, from every E-Commerce site.

According to Interval’s amended complaint, the office-supply sites infringed two Interval-owned patents. The first is U.S. patent 6,263,507, which is allegedly infringed whenever an E-tailer displays related products. Or, as the lawsuit complains about Office Depot:

“In order to help users find additional content that may be of interest, the software and hardware that operate these Web sites compare the available content items to determine whether they are related. When a user views a particular content item, the Office Depot Web sites generate displays of related content items so as to inform the user that the related items may be of interest. For example, when a user views a product page on, the Web site displays both the selected product information and links to other related products. The hardware and software associated with the Office Depot Web sites identified above and any other Office Depot Web sites that perform this function infringe” the Patent in several ways, the lawsuit said.

There are virtually identical paragraphs for Staples and OfficeMax, with only the company and Web site names changed.

Interval also accuses all three chains of infringing U.S. patent 6,757,682 every time an E-tailer shows product recommendations. For example, as the lawsuit complains about Staples:


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