Return to the Patent Wars?

After a respite from court battles, the online coupon industry and ad-serving industry might see a return to the flurry of patent claims and counter-claims that marked their earlier days.

Online coupon company E-centives said on Tuesday that it had filed a patent infringement lawsuit against rival Coupons Inc., alleging that it improperly used E-centives’ patented system for securely delivering online coupons. Meanwhile, 24/7 Real Media said it acquired another patent for serving targeted ads that it planned to enforce.

“We don’t intend to use our patents to just file litigation,” said Kamran Amjadi, E-centives’ chief executive. “However, they are our intellectual property.”

Bethesda, Md.-based E-centives claims five existing patents and has one pending. The suit revolves around two patents issued to E-centives for securely enabling print-at-home coupons.

Amjadi said the company only filed suit after failing to reach a licensing agreement with Coupons.

Officials for Coupons were unavailable for comment.

24/7 Real Media, for its part, announced Wednesday that it recently received a continuation of its patent No. 6,026,368 covering the “delivering sequenced advertisements to users of communications networks, including the Internet.”

“24/7 Real Media is actively pursuing opportunities to license our patents and remains committed to defending our patent position, including by enforcing our new patents, in order to enhance value for our stockholders and to protect existing licensees of the ‘368 patent,” said David Moore, 24/7 Real Media’s chairman and chief executive.

The New York-based company said it also acquired a new patent, No. 5,446,919, for delivering demographically or psychographically targeted ads based on audience on the Internet, interactive TV and cell phones.

The ad-serving and online coupon industries are two of many new technology industries that have seen a variety of litigation over patents. Ad-serving companies battled tooth and nail over patents covering their respective ad-delivery systems. In January, ValueClick and 24/7 Real Media settled one of the last of these suits when ValueClick agreed to license 24/7 Real Media’s technology for an undisclosed payment.

Likewise, patent-infringement suits were part and parcel of the early days of the online coupon industry, particularly from CoolSavings in the late 1990s. The Chicago-based company filed more than a half dozen patent suits against competitors, claiming infringement on its patent for delivering coupons on the Net based on prior buying patterns. Most of the suits were settled.

In fact, E-centives was one of the rivals CoolSavings targeted with a suit in 1998. E-centives responded with a couple of patent-infringement claims of its own. In October 2000, the two companies settled their suits.

Amjadi said E-centives had no intention of following that approach, adding that its patents were more solid with hundred of pieces of prior art to back them up. However, he did not rule out a return to the litigiousness that marked the industry’s early days.

“We will continue to look at the market and see who is offering these things,” he said.

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