With more than a dozen lawyers looking on — representing Google, Apple, eBay, Yahoo, Facebook and other Internet titans — a federal judge in Seattle heard arguments Monday afternoon in the lawsuit brought on behalf of Paul Allen’s former Interval Research lab.
But the question on the docket wasn’t whether the Internet giants violated the defunct lab’s patents. No, the first order of business for U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman was simply figuring out how to manage a suit that involves no fewer than eleven defendants, complicated behind-the-scenes technologies and thorny intellectual property issues dating back to the dawn of the web.
“What I know about computers is really minimal. If you want me to understand these patents then you’ve got to start educating me,” the judge told the lawyers from the bench, advising them to treat her as if she were an intelligent, teachable eighth grader.
That prompted Gerald Ivey, a lawyer representing AOL in the case, to point out that the average eighth grader is about as tech-savvy as they come these days. Pechman promptly revised her advice — telling the lawyers to treat her as if she was their mother.
The hearing highlighted the increasing complexity, size and pervasiveness of patent lawsuits among giant technology companies.