A Texas company has sued AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, claiming that all four web giants have infringed its patent "for conducting business transactions over the Internet".
Performance Pricing Inc. filed suit last week in the Eastern District of Texas, Marshall Division, a popular place for patent infringement suits. The company insists that four of the biggest names on the net are stepping on its patent with their ad technologies, including Google AdWords, Microsoft adCenter, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and the Google-powered AOL Search Marketplace.
"Defendants have used, and continue to use, Plaintiff Performance Pricing's patented technology methods and systems that they make, use, sell, and offer to sell, without Plaintiff's permission," the suit reads. "Plaintiff seeks damages for patent infringement and an injunction preventing Defendants from making, using, selling, or offering to sell technology claimed by the patent without Plaintiff's permission."
Think that's dodgy English? Wait 'til you read the patent.
Dubbed "Systems and methods for transacting business over a global communications network such as the Internet," the patent describes a method "for conducting business transactions over the Internet, allowing buyers to reduce the price of the selected product/service based on the buyer's performance during a collateral activity."
Yes, this is a business process patent.
Paying the ultimate price
"Sellers offer the product/service within a specified price range, and buyers accept the offer, in exchange for the opportunity to close the transaction at the lowest price offered by achieving a high score during the collateral activity," the patent continues. "The ultimate price is within the agreed upon range, but is determined based upon the buyer's performance during the collateral activity."
The patent also says that this process can be applied all sorts of activities - both online and off - including video games, electronic board games, sports betting, and card games.
According to Eric Goldman, Santa Clara University law professor and tech law blogger, the suit resembles the sort of "lawsuits that we're concerned about when we worry about patents being used as a way of shaking down people for cash as opposed to advancing social interests".
Congress is considering a bill that would overhaul patent litigation, and both Google and Microsoft have lobbied in its favor. The bill would make things more difficult for plaintiffs like Performance Pricing - but it might undermine legitimate startups as well.®