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Yahoo! sued in price comparison patent clash

Apple's Sherlock 2, others could be under threat too

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A New Zealand woman's lawsuit against Yahoo! for alleged patent infringement may have larger implications for the computer industry. The patent in question covers software which allows prices from different e-commerce Web sites to be pulled onto one location and compared -- something increasingly used on the Internet and is the basic idea behind Apple's MacOS-based Sherlock 2 search engine and AOL subsidiary PersonaLogic's automated buying guide technology. Yahoo! is using the technology without licence, the lawsuit claims. If the case is proved, it also raises the question of whether other companies are breaking the patent, including Apple. At the time of going to press, Apple was unable to state whether it held a licence agreement with St. Louis-based SBH -- the patent firm marketing Juliette Harrington's software. Equally, SBH was not able to provide a list of licencees. Yahoo! would not comment. A larger query remains over the patent, however, which would appear suitably vague and broad enough for companies to work unhindered within its confines. The patent's abstract states the software is: "A method of effecting commerce in a networked computer environment in a computerized system... A database of vendor product data and an associated database interface is established on a first computer. The interface allows remote access by one or more user(s). A local user interacts with the database by querying the database to specify a local users product/service specification." Sherlock allows Mac users to search multiple e-commerce sites simultaneously and produces a list of products and prices for easy, side-by-side comparison. That sounds remarkably like the kind of database Harrington's patent describes. ®

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