London-based Geomas filed suit (.pdf) late last year against Verizon Communications and its spinoff Idearc Media in a Texas federal court, alleging their Superpages.com search site infringes upon patent No. 5,930,474, for an “Internet Organizer for Accessing Geographically and Topically Based Information.” Last month, U.S. District Judge T. John Ward ruled the case could proceed to the discovery phase.
The patent describes an internet search functionality in which users can locate a topic or business based on their location. If you’ve ever looked for a nearby doctor or plumber online using your ZIP code or city, according to Geomas, the site you used likely infringed upon the patent. “In a perfect world, we commercialize the technology and grab licensing fees,” said Jason Galanis, founder of Geomas, which was formerly called Yellowone Investments. “We aren’t necessarily looking to sue as our main business, but realistically I think that’s going to have to happen.”
If he’s right, those sites could be forced to pay, or shut down their local search services. Geomas could rake in hundreds of millions of dollars in the process, and as search stalwarts see more local and map-centric search traffic and advertising revenue, the Verizon suit could be just the tip of the legal and licensing iceberg. Galanis said he’s raised $20 million to support the venture and is attempting to arrange licensing meetings with at least 20 firms Geomas believes infringe upon the patent.
The patent appears broad and obvious today, but was filed in 1996, before internet search became so commonplace. Roughly 100 companies, including Verizon, cite ‘474 as prior art in their own patents. Unlike many of those other companies, however, Geomas hasn’t created a working technology based on the patent, which Perkins said could give defendants an advantage in court.
What it means: as the Wired article says, the patent appears quite broad and obvious. I am not a lawyer but I definitely invite everyone running a local search site to take a look at the filing and follow this one closely. I’d love to know what my friend Greg thinks (as he used to be a practicing attorney).