Idearc Sued by Geomas, Claims to Own Local Search

(via Wired)

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).

9 thoughts on “Idearc Sued by Geomas, Claims to Own Local Search

  1. The Idearc site: http://www.superpages.com (formerly owned by Verizon, GTE before that) was a working site in 1995 and possibly prior to that. If this patent was filed in 1996, then Idearc’s site was obviously in existence prior to the patent being filed. (Don’t believe me, go look at the wayback site http://archive.internet.org and do asearch for http://www.superpages.com you will find the home page from 1996 with copyright info on the page dating back to 1995) In order to get a patent, I believe one typically must demonstrate that the “thing” which you are trying to patent hasn’t been already done commercially. Which is obviously not the case here, so this patent may have be granted in error. Please note that I am not a lawyer, but this sure looks like a bogus patent to me.

  2. The Idearc site: http://www.superpages.com (formerly owned by Verizon, GTE before that) was a working site in 1995 and possibly prior to that. If this patent was filed in 1996, then Idearc’s site was obviously in existence prior to the patent being filed. (Don’t believe me, go look at the wayback site http://archive.internet.org and do asearch for http://www.superpages.com you will find the home page from 1996 with copyright info on the page dating back to 1995) In order to get a patent, I believe one typically must demonstrate that the “thing” which you are trying to patent hasn’t been already done commercially. Which is obviously not the case here, so this patent may have be granted in error. Please note that I am not a lawyer, but this sure looks like a bogus patent to me.

  3. A couple points of interest:

    1. Geomas successfully settled its suit with Verizon/Idearc

    2. Idearc has file bankruptcy: Northern Texas 09-31828-bjh11

    3. Shareholders of CityHub.com, the company that supposedly assigned the patent that Geomas claims to own, have filed suit (Eastern Texas 2-09CV-143) against John Veenstra, Lisa Morgan and Geomas claiming all sorts of neat things. E.g., Breach of Fiduciary Obligations by John Veenstra; Misappropriation of the patent that rightfully belonged to CityHub; and other things.

    Interestingly, the Geomas website (www.geomas.com), which was active and quite fulsome whilst Geomas was suing Verizon, is now reduced to a “splash page” with no content whatever.

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