If at first you don't succeed: TiVo v. Dish and EchoStar, Xerox v. Google and Yahoo
In the late '80s and early '90s, the early days of the GUI climaxed in an Apple-Microsoft lawsuit over who had the rights to the all the concepts we now take for granted in that realm (windows, menus, the works). The suit (which, to be clear, involved copyright, not patents) was joined in progress by Xerox, who had a good claim to having beaten both the PC giants to the punch with its Alto computer (GUI shown below); the courts eventually sent everyone home with no sanctions, and the elements of the GUI as we know it essentially become public property. Xerox in particular had its claims dismissed because the statute of limitations on them had expired.
Perhaps the still-stinging institutional memory of this loss at the dawn of the PC age has prompted Xerox to launch a new patent salvo, against Google and Yahoo. But to this non-patent attorney, the violations don't seem as immediately obvious as the Alto's fingerprints on Windows and Mac OS. Xerox has patented a "system for automatically generating queries," supposedly violated by AdWords and AdSense, as well as a host of Yahoo! offerings; and a "method and apparatus for the integration of information and knowledge," a frighteningly broad-sounding patent that actually has to do with updating a Web site based on user reviews, and which is supposedly violated by Google Maps and YouTube. Naturally Google and Yahoo say the claims are specious; we'll find out what the courts think over the next, you know, four to twelve years or whatever.
Meanwhile, if Xerox is trying to compensate for past failures, TiVo is working to follow up on past successes. The DVR pioneer had already bested EchoStar and the Dish Network in court over TiVo's patented "timewarp" system, which is the basis for live TV pausing (essentially, a program can be watched and recorded at the same time). As many losers in patent cases do, the defendants came up with a workaround -- which has now also been slapped down in court. The lesson: Your patent loss isn't the end, necessarily.
Picture courtesy of toastytech.com
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