IBM is suing Airbnb over what it claims it the illegal use of four patents in a move that casts doubt over the short-term rental company’s attempts to a proposed listing.
IBM patents are homegrown and resulting from our more than $5bn investment a year in R&D.
After six years of unsuccessful discussions with Airbnb, IBM has issued a string of suits against online companies involving historic and arguably broad innovations, the computing group has accused Airbnb of “building its business” by using patents relating to functions such as “ presenting advertising is an interactive service” and “ improved navigation using bookmarks”.
Airbnb said: “We believe this case does not have any merit and look forward to an outcome which vindicates this position”.
IBM has topped the list of US groups awarded patents every year for the past 27 years and has used its resulting portfolio to launch suits against several tech groups. IBM has cited a patent developed in 1988 that covers innovation such as “presenting advertising concurrently with service applications”.
In its filing, IBM argues that rooms and experiences on Airbnb should be considered “service applications”, while the “reception system” should refer to the device used to access the website.
IBM used the same patent in a dispute with coupon site Groupon, which in 2018 agreed to pay $576m to end a two-year court battle.
It also was part of a suit filed in 2013 against Twitter, which struck a deal, licensing disputed patents from IBM and acquiring a further 900 at a total cost of $36m. Twitter was readying its IPO when IBM sued to force the company to warn prospective investors about the impending litigation in its risk factors. Airbnb is in a similar position, it has said it plans to go public this year.
IBM rejected any suggestion it was behaving in the manner of a “patent troll”, the term used to describe the use of overly broad patents to pressure companies into begrudgingly paying licence fees to avoid a long and expensive legal fight.
IBM said: “ We are determined to protect our investment and our innovation leadership.”
IBM sued Airbnb and is seeking a court order blocking further unauthorised use of its inventions. IBM said in the complaint filed Wednesday in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware; IBM has cross-licences with “dozens of similar companies” including Amazon, Apple Google, and Facebook.