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Facebook可能反诉雅虎侵权

Roger Parloff 2012年03月15日

一位分析师早在去年就预测出雅虎将状告Facebook侵权。如今这位分析师接受了《财富》杂志的采访,对这场官司的走向做出了预测。

    周一,雅虎(Yahoo)一纸诉状将Facebook告上法庭,称Facebook侵犯了自己的专利权。其实,早在去年11月,MDB Capital投资公司的一名分析师预言了这场官司。MDB Capital是一家华尔街投行,专门投资拥有大量知识产权的企业。

    这位名叫艾林•迈克尔•吉尔的分析师日前接受了《财富》杂志(Fortune)的采访,他认为Facebook并没有被这次攻击完全打乱阵脚,反而可能会发起反击,向雅虎提起诉讼,指控雅虎侵犯了自己早先购买的某些专利。事实上为了避免这类的攻击,Facebook早已未雨绸缪地收购了一批专利。吉尔指出,现在Facebook的资产中至少包含54项美国专利,其中有30项是在过去两年内购得的,有22项还是在去年8月以后才购得的。

    不过吉尔还表示,由于雅虎的专利在数量、覆盖面和性质上都占有优势,因此Facebook最后可能会被迫与雅虎达成一项交叉许可协议,并根据协议支付“一大笔钱”给雅虎。另外雅虎的上诉时机也选得正是时候。再过几周Facebook就要进行首次公开募股了,届时Facebook的估值预计将达到1,000亿美元左右。

    那么Facebook到底侵犯了雅虎的哪些专利呢?吉尔指出:“在本案中,雅虎主张Facebook侵犯了它的10项专利,这些专利广泛涵盖了Facebook的许多核心功能和特性。出了这种事,我们不能指望Facebook说:‘好吧,我们能绕开这些专利来设计产品吗?’或是‘我们能证明这些指控无效吗?’或许有可能,但是非常困难……雅虎在本案中可以拿出一波又一波的专利权主张。”(另外吉尔表示,他本人和他任职的MDB Capital公司都不持有任何Facebook或雅虎的股票。)

    据负责本案的加州圣何塞联邦法庭介绍,雅虎的专利主张包括一系列与“信息传送、动态消息生成、社交评论、广告展示、防止点击诈骗以及隐私控制”相关的发明。Facebook则在一份声明中表示:“我们将积极抗击这些令人费解的行动。”

    吉尔曾受邀替维权股东丹尼尔•洛布的第三点(Third Point)对冲基金评估雅虎的专利资产,因为自去年9月以来,这家对冲基金已经收购了雅虎这个已经陷入困境的搜索巨头超过5%的股份。另外在成为MDB Capital的知识产权总监以前,吉尔还曾在奥巴马政府任职,负责评估美国专利与商标局(the US Patent and Trademark Office)的战略和运作。吉尔在职业生涯的早期阶段还做过专利审查员。

    吉尔回忆起自己曾对雅虎的专利资产做过分析。他说:“我当时突然想到一件事,那就是雅虎专利对Facebook的适用性。”后来第三点基金安排吉尔认识了对雅虎持看多预期的基金经理埃里克•杰克逊,再后来杰克逊在福布斯网(Forbes.com)写了一篇文章,分析了雅虎与Facebook的专利冲突

    The patent suit filed yesterday by Yahoo against Facebook was effectively predicted last November by an analyst at MDB Capital, an investment bank that finances companies rich in intellectual property.

    Now, in an interview with Fortune, that same analyst, Erin-Michael Gill, predicts that Facebook -- which has not been caught completely flat-footed by the attack -- will respond by countersuing Yahoo, asserting patents it has acquired in anticipation of this type of attack. Facebook, whose portfolio now includes at least 54 granted U.S. patents, has acquired 30 of those in the past two years, notes Gill, including 22 since August.

    Nevertheless, Gill predicts, in the end Facebook will probably strike a cross-licensing deal that calls for it to cough up a "substantial sum" to Yahoo (YHOO), because of the number, breadth, and nature of Yahoo's patents. Yahoo's timing isn't likely to hurt, either. The suit landed just weeks before Facebook's anticipated IPO, which is expected to value the company at some $100 billion.

    What does Yahoo have on Facebook? "Here Yahoo is asserting 10 patents, covering a broad diversity of core functions and features of Facebook," Gill says. "This is not the kind of thing where you would expect Facebook to say, 'Okay, could we design around all these claims?' or 'Could we prove invalidity of all these claims?' It's possible, but fairly difficult. . . . Yahoo has wave after wave of claims here." (Neither Gill nor MDB has any stake in either Facebook or Yahoo, he says.)

    Yahoo's patents, according to the suit filed in federal court in San Jose, California, cover inventions relating to "messaging, news feed generation, social commenting, advertising display, preventing click fraud, and privacy controls." In a statement responding to the suit, Facebook said, "We will defend ourselves vigorously against these puzzling actions."

    Gill was first asked to assess the strength of Yahoo's patent portfolio by activist shareholder Daniel Loeb's hedge fund, Third Point, which has acquired more than 5% of the struggling search giant since September. Prior to becoming MDB's chief intellectual property officer, Gill was a political appointee in the Obama administration reviewing the US Patent and Trademark Office's strategy and operations. Early in his career Gill was a patent examiner.

    Gill recalls doing an analysis of Yahoo's patent portfolio. "One thing that jumped out at me was its applicability to Facebook," he says. Third Point then put Gill in touch with Eric Jackson, a fund manager with long positions in Yahoo, and Jackson wrote a story in Forbes.com about Yahoo's potential patent strength vis-à-vis Facebook.

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