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Yahoo Inc.’s system for playing fantasy football over the Internet does not infringe another company’s business method patent, a federal judge in Virginia ruled last week. In one of the first decisions involving a patent for a way of doing business over the Internet, Judge Jerome Friedman, of the Eastern District of Virginia, agreed with Yahoo’s prior art claim. Specifically, the judge said Yahoo’s system of allocating bonus points had been described in a 1987 fantasy football magazine. In Fantasy Sports Properties Inc. v. SportsLine.com Inc., 99-2131, Reston, Va.-based Fantasy Sports claimed that Yahoo and three other companies infringed its 1990 patent for playing fantasy football with a computer. Yahoo was the only defendant to request a summary judgment. Fantasy sports games have been around since the 1980s. Individuals draft their own roster of NFL players and gain points whenever these players score in the real world. Yar Chaikovsky, Yahoo’s patent counsel, said people initially tracked their teams on paper and then moved to computers. As the Internet grew, Chaikovsky said people began playing fantasy football online. Yahoo’s attorney, Morrison & Foerster partner Michael Jacobs, said the case is significant for several reasons. “First, it demonstrates that it is possible to obtain a relatively quick resolution of an infringement question without engaging in voluminous discovery.” Second, it shows that “companies like Yahoo don’t need to pay shake-down payments from owners of weak patents, and third, that the basic rules of claims construction and patentability apply to these sorts of patents,” Jacobs said. Fantasy Sports’s attorney, Raymond Niro, of Chicago’s Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro, could not be reached for comment. Since the Federal Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on the patentability of business method patents in 1998, at least one other court has ruled on a specific patent. In December, a Seattle federal court found that Amazon.com’s one-click patent, which allows consumers to buy products with a single mouse click, met the statutory requirement for a patent. The court issued a preliminary injunction against online bookseller Barnesandnoble.com for its use of a similar shopping system.

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