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Perched on the 20th floor of a San Francisco high-rise with a panoramic view of the bay and Alcatraz Island, Greg Aharonian spends his days poring over patents and pounding out a newsletter for IP aficionados. An outspoken critic of the patent system, Aharonian regularly blasts software patents that he views as overly broad. One such patent holder has struck back. TechSearch — a Chicago-based company that obtains ownership of patents and then seeks to enforce them — filed a patent infringement suit against Aharonian in July. The company claims he is infringing its so-called “remote query communication system” patent, which covers a method for compressing and decompressing data transmitted from a server to an end user. Aharonian had said the patent is so broad that anyone with a Web server could be sued for infringement. “That’s probably not incorrect,” said TechSearch founder and president Anthony Brown. Since anyone can be sued, why pick Aharonian? “I don’t want to get into why we choose to go after certain people,” Brown said. But he contended that Aharonian has been critical of TechSearch and has said things about its patent that are incorrect. “If that is his position, let him defend it,” Brown said. Aharonian says, however, that the suit is intended to harass him. “They believe the way to shut me up is to sue me,” he said. Taking up the gauntlet, Aharonian hired Alan Fisch, an IP attorney at Washington, D.C.’s Howrey Simon Arnold & White. Fisch’s work got easier when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted another party’s request that it re-examine the TechSearch patent. A federal court in Illinois recently stayed the suit against Aharonian, TechSearch v. Internet Entertainment Group Inc., 00-4623, pending the outcome of the PTO’s review. Aharonian is not the only defendant in the complaint. Three others — the Green Bay Packers, a pornography Web site and a Chicago car dealership — are also charged with infringing TechSearch’s patent by using “audio/visual graphical presentations on their Web sites.” But the complaint focuses on Aharonian. “He shamelessly, and oftentimes profanely, attacks [the] United States government, specifically the Patent and Trademark Office, its examiners and various public officials and private citizens,” the suit says. “He also purports to be an expert in patent law, though he has no specialized training in the field, has not graduated from any law school, is not admitted to practice before the Patent and Trademark Office and is not authorized to practice law.” “This all may be true,” Aharonian quipped, “but it has nothing to do with patent infringement.” A former software engineer, Aharonian does prior art searches for law firms that are either applying for patents or fending off infringement claims for their clients. He also has a Web site that includes information about his services and his patent newsletter, which is distributed electronically to about 4,000 subscribers. When TechSearch hit his radar screen, Aharonian fired off an edition of his newsletter criticizing the patent and the company for attempting to enforce it. TechSearch has filed several suits over the remote query patent, naming United Air Lines Corp., Sears, Roebuck and Co., Hyatt Corp. and others as defendants. TechSearch’s attorney, Raymond Niro of Chicago’s Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro said that with the exception of the Aharonian suit, all these cases have settled. He added that about 100 companies have already licensed TechSearch’s patent. Aharonian said it’s cheaper to pay the company’s licensing fee of $30,000 than to go to court. Founded two and a half years ago, TechSearch has acquired a portfolio of about two dozen patents. Brown said the company typically buys a patent and splits licensing proceeds with the inventor, but may also obtain an exclusive license on a patent. An attorney formerly with Chicago’s Jenner & Block, Brown said he formed the company “to help inventors and small companies realize the value of their patents.” TechSearch gained recognition two years ago when it filed a multimillion-dollar suit against Intel Inc., claiming the company infringed its microprocessor patent. A federal judge granted Intel’s motion for summary judgment, and the case is on appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Aharonian lacks Intel’s deep pockets. But since he considers the TechSearch patent a “classic abuse of the patent system,” he’s not backing down from the costly fight. “I could have bought a Harley for the money I’ve blown on it,” he said.

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