Patent Lawsuit Filed Over Google Reader–Priest v. Google

By Eric Goldman

Priest v. Google, 1:2008cv12056 (D. Mass. complaint filed Dec. 11, 2008). The Justia page.

I normally try to stay away from patent lawsuits, and frankly so many are filed against the major search engines that it would be impossible for me to keep up. However, I got such a good laugh out of this complaint that I had to share it with you.

The lawsuit alleges that Google, and in particular Google Reader, infringes two patents, #5,167,011 and #5,829,002. I have no opinion on the merits of the lawsuit. It appears that the lawsuit was filed pro se, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a pro se patent lawsuit. Maybe that explains the strangeness of the complaint.

The complaint tells the story of how the plaintiffs approached Google in 2007 about the patents by emailing Google’s bizdev email account. The complaint suggests that in March 2008, Google sent a nice “buzz off” email. The complaint then indicates that the plaintiffs were scared to engage Google in further discussions due to the 2007 SanDisk v. STMicroelectronics Federal Circuit ruling, which held that plaintiffs’ stronger assertions of its patent rights might create the basis for Google to file a declaratory judgment–something the plaintiffs apparently really, really wanted to avoid. Therefore, the plaintiffs decided to let their complaint do the talking from there.

But now that the complaint has been filed in their home court and it will be difficult for Google to usurp jurisdiction, the plaintiffs want to keep talking with Google. So, in their complaint, they write (para. 15):

Further, as Priest & Morris, in good faith, only wish that the invention be used to its fullest potential, and have a strong wish that precious court and corporate resources be conserved, the plaintiffs prefer reaching this fair settlement through friendly appreciation and negotiation. In any event, we encourage defendant to not view this complaint as ‘litigious behavior’ and to view it in respective good faith and action.

I’m not exactly sure what planet these plaintiffs are from, but here on Earth, we tend to view the filing of a lawsuit as “litigious behavior.” Further, given that the typical cost to defend a patent lawsuit is around $5M, it’s a little hard to see how Google will interpret this lawsuit as a friendly gesture.