Saturday, July 28, 2007

You Can Still "Buy It Now"

I wasn't even aware that this suit had been filed, but a court has ruled that eBay will still be still be allowed to use its "Buy It Now" feature:
A federal judge Friday denied a request from a small Virginia company to stop the online auction powerhouse eBay Inc. from using a feature that allows shoppers to purchase items at a fixed price.

U.S. District Court Judge Jerome B. Friedman denied a motion by MercExchange LLC for a permanent injunction against San Jose, Calif.-based eBay over the "Buy It Now" feature.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that although eBay infringed upon MercExchange's patent for the service, it was up to the lower court to decide whether eBay had to stop using it.

In his ruling, Friedman said the company was not irreparably harmed because it continued to make money from its patents, either by licensing them outright or by threatening litigation against those it believed infringed upon them.
So sometimes, in the business world, David and Goliath can come to a compromise, even if it was sort of a good-news, bad-news ending for each company: eBay gets to use the technology, but they have to pay the smaller company to do so.

As the article notes, "[t]he case became a rallying point for critics who argue the U.S. patent system is riddled with abuse from small businesses that sue established companies to enforce patents for ideas that have never been developed into products." It certainly seems like a compromise should be worked out in cases like that.

Perhaps one of the largest David-beats-Goliath situations occurred in Houston, where a chain called Prince's Hamburgers owned a couple of small outlets known as McDonald's Drive-Ins. Their rights to that name actually kept the "real" McDonald's out of Houston until the early 1970's. (Some background on this may be found here, in the forum section of a site that's a tribute to Houston's late Astroworld theme park.) The big guys, of course, would eventually prevail. But now, in the era of Google, it would be hard to claim ignorance of the name of a national or regional chain just because it hadn't yet opened up in your town.

Putting way too many tigers in your tank: A guy asked ExxonMobil to send him a couple of extra credit cards; they ended up sending him 2000 of them.

The good in people/the bad in people: Someone robbed an 11-year-old boy's lemonade stand in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, but countless people have sent him cards with replacement money, offered to have him set up his stand near their businesses, and so on. (Even better--the robbers were caught.)

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