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8/28/2007
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Amazon, Google, Yahoo, And Others Sued For Automating Their E-mail

The companies are accused of violating a patent on automatic message routing held by Polaris IP. The patent has a long history in litigation, but all the cases have been settled out of court.

Six major Internet companies have been sued for using computers to process their e-mail.

AOL, Amazon, Borders, Google, IAC, and Yahoo stand accused of violating a patent on automatic message routing held by Texas-based Polaris IP.

Attorneys representing Polaris IP filed a claim of patent infringement on Monday in U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall, Texas.

The lawsuit charges the companies with implementing systems that "comprise interpreting electronic messages with rule base and case base knowledge engines" as described in the patent held by the plaintiff, "Automatic message interpretation and routing system."

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against continued infringement. If granted -- a remote prospect at best -- the injunction would have a significant impact on the defending companies.

A more likely scenario appears to be a payday for the plaintiff. "It looks like Polaris IP is in the business of licensing patent rights and has no desire to enforce its requested injunction," said Dennis Crouch, associate professor of law at University of Missouri School of Law and the author of the law blog Patently-O, in an e-mail. "I expect that Polaris IP will be willing to settle these cases for what it believes is a reasonable six- or seven-digit figure."

Crouch pointed out that the message routing patent at issue has been involved in litigation many times. "There are no published opinions associated with these cases and they have all been settled," he said.

Polaris IP, Crouch observed, "appears to be part of a web of IP-related companies associated with attorney David Pridham." These companies include Orion IP, Constellation IP, IP Navigation Group, Cushion Technologies, CT IP Holdings, Triton, Circinus IP, and Firepond.

Pridham did not respond to a request for comment.

The method and system detailed in the patent describes a way "for automatically interpreting an electronic message including the steps of (a) receiving an electronic message from a source; (b) interpreting the electronic message using a rule base and case base knowledge engine; and (c) retrieving one or more predetermined responses corresponding to the interpretation of the electronic message from a repository for automatic delivery to the source."

The Eastern District of Texas has become a favored venue for filing patent lawsuits. Polaris IP has launched three other patent cases there in the past two years against numerous technology companies, including Art Technology Group, Oracle, and Sirius Satellite Radio. All three of these cases have involved the same patent, which has a long legal history.

"The Eastern District of Texas has seen a flood of patent litigation in recent years based on its reputation as a patent-friendly court," said Crouch. "Interestingly, that reputation is rapidly changing as the court invalidates more patents."

Attorneys representing Polaris IP did not return calls seeking comment.

Google did not respond to a request for comment.

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