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Google, Microsoft Cooperate To Invalidate Broad Online Mapping Patent
It’s reasonable to say that the world of technology patents is screwed up and headed for some major reform. One area in which this is very apparent is location/mapping/geo.
There are a number of seemingly conflicting or contradictory local and local-mobile patents that have been issued over the past several years. Some of these patents were issued to small companies and some are owned or were acquired by giants like Google and Microsoft. Now Redmond and Mountain View have joined forces to fight a common foe: a small company in Texas that holds a potentially sweeping mapping patent.
The Texas company GeoTag, Inc. has filed infringement suites against hundreds of companies that are using Google or Bing Maps — in many cases to show store locations. The patent was issued in 1999 and is entitled “Internet organizer for accessing geographically and topically based information.”
The patent, like so many, is full of expansive and vague language that would seem to implicate almost everything that is “geo” online. At a minimum GeoTag’s position appears to be that the patent covers the display of any online (and presumably mobile) information on a map.
According to Bloomberg:
GeoTag has filed at least eight lawsuits in federal court in Marshall, Texas, against 300 companies. Some companies are demanding that Microsoft and Google defend them and cover any losses, according to the complaint filed yesterday.
Google and Microsoft are seeking a judgment that their products and technologies don’t infringe the patent or that the patent is invalid because there was conflicting prior art. If that finding were to be made by a court it would also invalidate the underlying lawsuits against the many companies GeoTag is going after.
According to the article the patent has been sold several times in the past. The current owner, GeoTag, is planning in IPO. This patent and its potential enforceability is a key to perception of the company’s future value among investors.