Dell has become the first company to be targeted by the owner of a broad-brush patent that covers international ecommerce.
The patent in question, 6,460,020, covers a "universal shopping center for international operation". It describes a system that allows buyers to order goods online, and have their international delivery charges calculated there and then. If they accept the total amount, they can authorise a credit card payment.
The patent was filed in December 1997 and granted in October 2002. It is owned by DE Technologies, based in Union Hall, Virginia.
DE is the company suing Dell, and it's after a percentage of the $14.9bn sales the PC giant makes selling kit overseas.
In essence, Dell is being used as an example of what might happen to other companies if they fail to license DE's patent, the patented process' co-inventor and DE CEO, Ed Pool, told the Wall Street Journal.
Dell has yet to comment on the case, but if it attempts to fight the claim, its defence could well centre on prior art. Amazon, to name but one online retailer with an international reach, has been doing this kind of thing long before 1997. However, Dell may simply decide that the cost of licensing the patent is lower than the cost of litigation, particularly since it will have lawyers to pay - even if it prevails in court.
Dell is also the target of American Video Graphics, another little-known firm, but one that holds a number of graphics-related patents acquired from Tektronix. It is suing Dell, a number of other hardware companies and the leading games publishers for alleged infringement of its intellectual property. ®
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