Retailers With Websites Containing Store Locator Function Sued In Series of Patent Lawsuits
The last two weeks of 2010 witnessed the launching of what may be the largest patent infringement litigation in the United States. Between December 17, 2010 and December 23, 2010, a "patent troll," Geotag, Inc., filed eight patent infringement lawsuits in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, each of which alleged infringement of a single patent, U.S. Patent No. 5,930,474 (the "'474 Patent"), against different groups of defendants. The principal targets of these lawsuits were retailers with websites containing a store locator function. More than 300 companies were named in the lawsuits.
The '474 Patent
The '474 Patent purports to cover systems and methods for associating online information with geographic locations. It was purportedly "invented" in the mid-1990s and issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on July 27, 1999, based on an application filed January 31, 1996. After the "inventors" were unable to commercialize the '474 Patent, the rights to it were acquired by a U.S. entrepreneur. The '474 Patent has previously been asserted against Idearc Information Services, Inc. That lawsuit was settled on a confidential basis in December 2008, after a claim construction for the patent was rendered, but before any determination of the validity of the '474 Patent was made.
The Current Lawsuits
These new lawsuits allege that the '474 Patent applies to store locator functions on websites. In effect, the lawsuits allege that, every time a PC user searches online for the closest bricks-and-mortar location of a retailer, the '474 Patent is infringed.
Geotag has apparently obtained $20 million in financing to support these lawsuits and has brought the litigation in a federal court regarded as generally friendly to patent trolls. Retailers should take this litigation very seriously as it is likely to be pursued aggressively by Geotag.
What You Should Do Now
The majority of named defendants have not yet been served with process and many are not even aware of the litigation because the Christmas Eve filing resulted in the suits "slipping under the media radar". If you wish to find out whether your company has been named as a defendant, please feel free to contact us. If your company is a named defendant, it should determine whether its website's store locator function was independently developed or licensed from a third party, such as MapQuest. There may well be a right to indemnification which should be explored. Even companies (with websites that include a store locator) that are not named defendants have a vested interest in this litigation and should follow developments closely. In particular, it is important to consider whether it is possible to implement a "design around" of the '474 Patent, based upon the claim construction rendered in the prior litigation. If you wish to obtain a copy of that decision, please feel free to contact us.
For more information, please contact the professional(s) listed below, or your regular Crowell & Moring contact.