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Longtime foes Netscape Communications Corp. and Microsoft Corp. have joined forces against an inventor who claims to hold patents on accessing information over the Internet. The two companies sued Allan Konrad, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, after he filed suit against 39 companies for patent infringement. Konrad says in his suit that his patents “pertain to the way in which an individual computer user can reach out via networks and/or the Internet to remote servers that provide information and services to the individual user.” Netscape and Microsoft are asking the court to rule that the patents are invalid. “The strategy of the plaintiff was to try and make people pay him to essentially use the Internet,” said Charles Verhoeven, a partner in the San Francisco office of L.A.-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges and counsel for Netscape. But Konrad’s attorney, Scott Campbell of Minneapolis-based Zelle, Hofmann, Voelbel, Mason & Gette’s San Francisco office, dismissed complaints that the patent is too broad. “The patent is what it is,” he said. “The presumed breadth doesn’t affect the validity of the patent.” The Konrad case is one of a flood of suits involving Internet patents. Those contesting the patents claim they are overly broad, either covering technology in use before the patent was issued or covering ways of doing things that are common in the offline world. One of the most controversial cases involved Amazon.com’s “1-Click” purchasing method that allows Internet customers to buy products with a single mouse click. The company’s patent infringement suit against Barnes & Noble.com settled March 5 for undisclosed terms. In another case, Verhoeven is involved in a battle over an online music sampling patent. The litigation over Konrad’s Internet patent began two years ago when he sued several automobile, car rental, airline and hotel companies. A federal court in Texas ruled in Konrad v. General Motors Corp., 00-21, that Konrad’s patent claims were narrower than what he asserted. A San Jose, Calif., federal court also issued a favorable ruling for Netscape and Microsoft on the question of prior art in Netscape v. Konrad, 01-1455. Though Konrad stipulated that all the patent claims are invalid, he is appealing both court orders, and the two suits are to be taken up by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit today. Microsoft and Netscape stepped into the fray to block what they perceived as an overly broad patent. “They are archenemies but they had a mutual interest because their customers were being sued,” Verhoeven said. Verhoeven’s second Internet case may prove more difficult. To date Intouch has successfully enforced its patent on a method of previewing pre-recorded music samples online. Intouch sued six companies, including Amazon.com, Listen.com Inc., Liquid Audio Inc. and Entertaindom, a defunct unit of AOL Time Warner. Verhoeven’s client, Entertaindom, is the only defendant that has not settled with Intouch. Founded in 1990, Intouch originally provided music samples through kiosks it leased to about 500 music stores. Intouch CEO Joshua Kaplan said the company hired music students from the San Francisco Music Conservatory to select riffs of music and spent millions of dollars to construct a database of music samples. When the Internet came along, Kaplan said, the company was able to use the same model to provide music samples from a remote location. Intouch filed a patent application for online previewing of music in 1996 and the patent issued in 1999. Verhoeven contends that the method for previewing music was in public use one year before the patent application was filed. U.S. District Judge Lowell Jensen in Oakland, Calif., agreed that the former Music Boulevard Web site was offering music previews prior to Intouch’s patent filing. He found that two of Intouch’s patent claims are invalid since Music Boulevard was tracking a user’s activity on its Web site and identifying recordings with a unique code. Verhoeven said the remaining claims are dependent on those that were found to be invalid. “It is going to be a mop-up operation to get rid of those, so we consider this essentially to be the end of the case,” he said. “It should be a relief for anyone who provides music samples on the Internet.” But Kaplan said the three remaining claims are “the meat of the patent.” The primary claim, he said, covers use of RAID array drives, which “every major Web site runs on.” A trial is set for September.

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