An IBM software engineer sketches out a pending patent.
IBM has acquired more US patents than any other company for 23 years in a row. (Jared Lazarus/Feature Photo Service for IBM)IBM
IBM is pushing big Internet companies to pay patent licensing fees in part because IBM invented the Prodigy service, a precursor to the modern Web.
Yesterday, Big Blue filed a lawsuit (PDF) against Groupon, saying the company has infringed four IBM patents, including patents 5,796,967 and 7,072,849.
Each of those relates to the Prodigy service. IBM inventors working on Prodigy “developed novel methods for presenting applications and advertisements,” and “the technological innovations embodied in these patents are fundamental to the efficient communication of Internet content,” according to the company.
The Prodigy patents were filed in 1993 and 1996, but they have “priority dates” stretching back to 1988.
That’s because they’re based on “divisional” and “continuation” patent applications, which were abandoned but first filed in that year.
The ‘567 patent describes a system that presents “interactive applications (such as home, local, goods, etc.) on a computer network,” using a monitor, a “first partition” (a webpage), and a “second partition” with command functions (like a menu bar).
The wording of the complaint, filed in federal court in Delaware, is extremely similar to a lawsuit that IBM filed last year against Priceline, Kayak, and OpenTable. That ongoing litigation involves the same four patents.
“[D]espite IBM’s repeated attempts to negotiate, Groupon refuses to take a license but continues to use IBM’s property,” IBM lawyers write.
As to the other allegations, US Patent No. 5,961,601 describes preserving “state” information between a client and server. US Patent No. 7,631,346, filed in 2005, is the most recent patent.
It describes advances in “single-sign-on technology,” which allows users to connect to online services “by requiring only one authorization operation during a particular user session.”
The infringement accusations for the ‘346 “single-sign-on” patent say that Groupon infringes because it has an option to sign in using Facebook.
That’s an extremely common sign-in option for apps today, suggesting that IBM believes a vast swath of mobile apps infringe its patents.
IBM says it informed Groupon that it was infringing the ‘967, ‘849, and ‘346 patents as early as 2011.
As for the ‘601 patent, IBM says that Groupon should have been on notice of that once Priceline got sued last year.
“Over the past three years, IBM has attempted to conclude a fair and reasonable patent license agreement with Groupon,” an IBM spokesperson told Ars via email. “Our intent is to reach a fair conclusion under which Groupon acknowledges its obligation and compensates IBM for the use of IBM’s patented technology.”
Groupon didn’t respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
This isn’t the first time IBM has sought patent licensing fees from an Internet giant. In 2013, Big Blue sent a patent demand letter to Twitter on the verge of Twitter’s IPO.
Twitter paid $36 million to IBM to resolve that dispute, which included an outright purchase of 900 IBM patents.
Back in 2006, IBM sued Amazon in the patent hotspot of the Eastern District of Texas over business method patents the company said were foundational to online commerce.
The case settled the following year.
IBM aggressively patents the technologies it creates, and for the last 23 years the company has acquired more US patents each year than any other company. Last year, IBM acquired 7,355 US patents.