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Patent troll sues Apple, Google, and most of the tech universe

By Julianne Pepitone, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- NTP Inc., a patent holding company that shook up the tech world several years ago by extracting a pricey legal settlement from BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, announced Friday it had launched a fresh barrage of patent infringement lawsuits against the tech world's leading lights.

The Richmond, Va.-based firm filed lawsuits late Thursday against Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500), Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), HTC, LG Electronics, Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) and Motorola (MOT, Fortune 500) for alleged infringements of eight NTP patents related to wireless e-mail delivery.

"The filing of suit today is necessary to ensure that those companies who are infringing NTP's patents will be required to pay a licensing fee," NTP cofounder Donald Stout said in a prepared statement. The lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

A Google spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying the company had not yet been served papers. Representatives from Microsoft and HTC also had no comment, while the other three smart phone companies targeted by NTP did not return calls.

NTP is best known for its patent battle against Research in Motion (RIMM), which ended in 2006 when RIM agreed to pay $613 million to settle the charges. In return, RIM received a license allowing it to use patented NTP technology in all of RIM's current and future products. In 2007, NTP sued AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless for similar infringements. Those cases are still pending.

RIM's stock closed almost 8% higher Friday. Google shares finished the day up 2% and Apple's stock rose slightly, while shares of Microsoft and Motorola ended modestly down.

The lawsuits highlight a problem often cited by critics of current U.S. patent policy: Companies are allowed to collect patents for inventions they never plan to manufacture. Those companies, often referred to as "patent trolls," can then opportunistically sue alleged infringers.

A Senate bill is in the works to bring changes to the U.S. Patent Office, including a transition to a "first-to-file" system rather than a "first-to-invent" approach. The United States is the only major country that gives patents to those who can prove they invented an item before someone else's patent was filed. To top of page

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