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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued an initial ruling Tuesday that could invalidate a small Virginia business’ patent that a federal appeals court ruled eBay Inc. had violated, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled on March 16 that the e-commerce powerhouse’s fixed-price auctions and some of its online payment methods violate a patent obtained by Great Falls, Va.-based MercExchange Inc., which sued eBay in September 2001. EBay was ordered to pay $25 million to MercExchange but the company asked the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to revoke the patent. The patent office made an initial ruling that it may revoke the patent because its claimed inventions either were obvious or had been anticipated by other patents, the newspaper reported. MercExchange said in a statement that it plans to appeal the ruling. “We will deal with this office action, like all previous office actions during the prosecution of our patents, in the ordinary course,” said Thomas G. Woolston, a patent attorney who owns MercExchange. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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