Megapopular microblogger Twitter is being sued for patent infringment by a Texas company that alleges the 140-character messaging system is based on its patented digital-notification technology.
The suit was filed TechRadium, a Sugar Land, Texas-based company that, according to its website, "delivers the world's leading edge mass notification and emergency alerting systems to a vast array of governmental, educational, commercial and non-profit entities."
At issue is the "mass notification" part of that self-description. According to court documents submitted to the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, TechRadium holds three patents on the technology behind its IRIS (immediate response information system) for which it claims infringement.
The IRIS system makes it possible for a group administrator to issue a single message that will be delivered to multiple subscribers "simultaneously via multiple communication gateways," according to the suit.
Sounds like Twitter, alright. But it also sounds like any number of different messaging systems. The devil, as is always the case, is in the details.
TechRadium's lawyer, W. Shawn Staples of the Houston, Texas, Mostyn Law Firm contends that the details are on the Texas firm's side, telling the IDG News Service that "The problem is the Twitter architecture. The way they have it set up is technology that is squarely within TechRadium's patents."
And Twitter's alleged infringment, according to Staples, puts TechRadium's business at risk. "There have been recently some municipalities and other organisations who have claimed they'll use Twitter for emergency notification systems," Staples said, "and that's technology that TechRadium has spent many years and a lot of money developing."
Exactly which specifics of its technology that TechRadium claims are being infringed upon are not detailed in the brief, eight-page court filing. However, the three patents cited are entitled "Digital notification and response system ," "Method for providing digital notification," and "Method for providing digital notification and receiving responses."
Each of the patents - especially the latter two - go into great detail describing the architecture of the IRIS system. It will be up to the court to match the architecture they describe with that of Twitter's to determine if the similarities constitute infringement.
If the court rules in TechRadium's favor, it's unclear what the damages might be. The filing doesn't mention a dollar amount, only that it seeks "recovery of damages for lost profits, reasonable royalties, unjust enrichment, and benefits received by the Defendant as a result of use the misappropriated technology."
In addition, TechRadium also seeks "exemplary damages" due to Twitter's "gross negligence, malice, or actual fraud," and because "Defendant’s conduct was committed intentionally, knowingly, and with callous disregard of Plaintiff’s legitimate rights."
It's not that Twitter didn't see this coming. In mid-July, a hacker exposed a wealth of corporate and personal documents - one of which, as Wired points out, was stamped "Legal" and included the prophetic words: "We will be sued for patent infringement, repeatedly and often." ®