A defunct navigation company called WebMap Technologies is suing 15 different major companies in what might be the most bloated and fatuous IP lawsuit in recent memory. And it just might pay off.
WebMap's principals are claiming that all 15 companies—Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Yelp, Travelocity, CitySearch, IAC/Interactivecorp, Yellowpages.com, The Washington Post Company, Ticketmaster, Zagat Survey, and City Accommodations Network—all violated a patent they hold that describes a "method and apparatus for collecting and expressing geographically-referenced data," or in human-speak, software code for pinpointing something on a map. WebMap is seeking damages for willful infringement.
According to TechCrunch, WebMap crashed and burned after the tech bubble burst nearly ten years ago. Its former homepage has been supplanted with a GoDaddy parking page.
But its lawsuit hedges an interesting legal bet. Last fall, a Federal Circuit court upheld a decision called In re Bilski that rendered all "business method" patents indefensible—including all patents for software, formulae, and any other non-mechanical technology. Patents like WebMap's "method and apparatus" are clearly included under that rubric. So why bother suing?
Because the Bilski suit is headed to the Supreme Court, and is scheduled to be heard on November 9. Should the court strike down the decision, WebMap's suit could suddenly become a goldmine—assuming, of course, a judge finds the 15 companies in question guilty of infringement. If the Bilski decision is upheld, they'll simply look even more asinine than they already do for suing 15 companies.