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Judge Affirms $30M Judgment Against EBay

  Patent Law  -   POSTED: 2007/12/13 19:42

A federal judge has approved a roughly $30 million judgment against eBay Inc. more than four years after a jury concluded the online auctioneer had infringed on the patent of a small Virginia company. U.S. District Court Judge Jerome Friedman's certification, issued late Tuesday in Virginia, edges Great Falls, Va.-based MercExchange LLC a step closer to cashing in on its long-running battle against one of the Internet's powerhouses.

But eBay still hopes to avoid writing a check.

"We are disappointed with the court's order and we plan to appeal it," the San Jose-based company said in a statement Wednesday.

EBay believes Friedman could have rejected the judgment, based on recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the laws governing patent enforcement.

The case already has been tied up in years of appeals, including an issue that landed in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The dispute revolves around eBay's "Buy It Now" option, which sells merchandise at a fixed price instead of fluctuating bids. MercExchange contends the system tramples on its patented technology.

A federal jury sided with MercExchange in 2003, concluding that eBay should pay $35 million in damages. The award was later reduced to about $25 million. With interest accumulating since then, the value of the judgment has climbed back up to about $30 million, according to both MercExchange and eBay.

MercExchange had hoped to use the jury's findings to win a court order that would have prevented eBay from continuing to use the "Buy It Now" feature.

The legal wrangling over MercExchange's bid for an injunction against eBay culminated in a pivotal ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. The high court decided that judges aren't automatically required to block a technology from being used even after a jury finds a patent violation like eBay's.

In addition to the judgment, MercExchange wants millions in licensing fees for use of its patented technology since the 2003 verdict. EBay has vehemently declined to pay.

Since the legal tug-of-war began, MercExchange's payroll has shrank from more than 40 employees to three. Thomas Woolston, MercExchange's president, is trying to revive the company's growth by licensing patents to other e-commerce sites.

Meanwhile, eBay has already accounted for the MercExchange judgment on its books. And it ended September with $3.9 billion in cash.


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