Al Gore may have invented the internet, but Paul Allen holds the patent. That's the absurd claim Microsoft's former co-founder is making in a lawsuit that names Apple, Google, Facebook and nearly every big name in the tech world (with two notable exceptions which we'll get to in a second). So what's this all about? Let's break it down.
Allen is claiming that much of what happens on the internet is a violation of technology he helped create as the money man at Interval Research, a Palo Alto lab that closed 10 years ago. According to the Wall Street Journal, Allen's lawyers have been poring over his patents for a number of years, looking for ways to turn a quick buck. This is (some of what) he's suing over.
The technology behind one patent allows a site to offer suggestions to consumers for items related to what they're currently viewing, or related to online activities of others in the case of social networking sites.
A second, among other things, allow readers of a news story to quickly locate stories related to a particular subject. Two others enable ads, stock quotes, news updates or video images to flash on a computer screen, peripherally to a user's main activity.
The first half of that first alleged patent infringement sounds a lot like Amazon's "customers who like this" feature, which suggests other products for you to buy. But strangely enough, despite the fact that he's suing most of Silicon Valley, Amazon has been spared Allen's litigious wrath.
Also exempted from Allen's lawsuit: his old buddies at Microsoft. Who operate MSN. Which definitely does that peripherally distracting shit mentioned in the second patent infringement, as do most web sites.
The whole thing is just bizarre. But it's not without precedent, as Allen's former co-worker Nathan Myhrvold has spent hundreds of millions of dollars amassing thousands of patents, then loaning them out to companies who want to sue. For this he's been called a troll--a disparagement that apparently did nothing to discourage Allen from following in his footsteps.