News.com is reporting on a series of developments in a patent dispute between eBay and MercExchange. At issue are several patents filed by Tom Woolsten, founder of MercExchange, back in 1995 -- several months before the creation of eBay. These patents describe "methods of creating and searching online marketplaces and auctions."
This case, among others, is central to the many business process-related patent disputes currently moving through the courts. At issue is whether or not a company such as MercExchange can patent something such as a "method of creating and searching online marketplaces and auctions." In a broader sense, this could affect the way companies like eBay and others currently facing similar lawsuits conduct their business. The eBay case has the opportunity to set precedent in this area.
Similar patents have been filed by a host of companies, including Internet behemoth Amazon.com. The online retailer patented a business process for one-click ordering. Amazon then asked other online retailers to pay a royalty for using one-click ordering. Apple was one of the first such companies to "license" this business process from Amazon. British Telecom recently lost its bid to collect royalties for a patent it claimed covered Hyperlinks, the very foundation of the World Wide Web as we know it today.
The eBay lawsuit has been cleared to go forward by the judge hearing the case. The judge has ruled on several motions involved, clarifying a number of issues. From the article:
MercExchange, a Great Falls, Va.-based company that holds and licenses a portfolio of e-commerce-related patents, sued eBay last year. The company charged that the online auction giant and two of its subsidiaries had infringed three of its patents covering methods for holding and searching online auctions. eBay has acknowledged in regulatory filings that if MercExchange prevails in the case, eBay could suffer "material harm" and be forced to significantly change its business practices.
"The court realized that not only did the parties disagree as to what the claims mean, but they also disagreed as to what claims were in dispute," Judge Friedman wrote in his Markman decision, which helps define the disputed terms for a jury. "As a result of the partiesi inability to cooperate at all, this court has been forced to expend an incredible amount of time and resources handling this case."
A Markman ruling can serve as an omen for the eventual outcome of a patent case by either disallowing certain patent claims or allowing a broad interpretation of them. British Telecommunicationsi efforts to enforce a patent on hyperlinks, for example, were dealt a deathblow by a Markman ruling in March that threw out many of its claims.
More detail regarding the circumstances and the current state of the patent dispute between eBay and MercExchange can be found in the News.com article.