Thursday, September 08, 2005

ePLUS MARCHES FORWARD WITH SAP AG IN THE CROSSHAIRS: EPlus, which specializes in enterprise cost management software, filed a patent lawsuit April 18 in the U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia, alleging that German business application vendor SAP AG infringed three of its patents for e-commerce-related technologies. Last June, SAP filed their Answer and Counterclaims, arguing that it had not infringed on the ePlus patents and that the patents were invalid. The case is set for trial in March 2006.

The asserted patents, along with exemplary claims are as follows:

US Patent 6,023,683 - "Electronic sourcing system and method" (filed 8/10/94 - issued 2/8/00)

26. A method comprising the steps of:
maintaining at least two product catalogs on a database containing data relating to items associated with the respective sources;
selecting the product catalogs to search;
searching for matching items among the selected product catalogs;
building a requisition using data relating to selected matching items and their associated source(s);
processing the requisition to generate one or more purchase orders for the selected matching items; and
determining whether a selected matching item is available in inventory.

US Patent 6,055,516 - "Electronic sourcing system" (continuation of the '683 patent)

16. An electronic sourcing system comprising:
at least two product catalogs containing data relating to items such that an item in a first catalog is generally equivalent with an item in a second catalog; and
converting means for converting data relating to said item from said first catalog to data relating to said item from said second catalog.

US Patent 6,505,172 - "Electronic sourcing system" (divisional of the '516 patent)

1. An electronic sourcing system comprising:
a database containing data relating to items associated with at least two vendors maintained so that selected portions of the database may be searched separately;
means for entering product information that at least partially describes at least one desired item;
means for searching for matching items that match the entered product information in the selected portions of the database;
means for generating an order list that includes at least one matching item selected by said means for searching;
means for building a requisition that uses data obtained from said database relating to selected matching items on said order list;
means for processing said requisition to generate purchase orders for said selected matching items.

For those that follow ePlus, they filed this suit fresh after cashing in on their settlement with Ariba after a E.D. VA jury found that Ariba willfully infringed their patents. An interesting note on the Ariba case was that it was one of the first jury cases that decided willfulness after the Knorr-Bremse decision. Another factoid that surprised me was that the Ariba case went from complaint to jury verdict in less than 10 months - "rocket docket" indeed.

Anyways, it looks like SAP may have some legwork to do if they are looking to invalidate these patents. ePlus has already survived a first challenge to the validity of the patents, and the USPTO literature is pretty crappy prior to 1995. That means lots of digging in documents preceding the Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council (I can't imagine what IEEE journals could produce). I'm not saying that SAP won't find anything, but usually once a patent gets vetted through to verdict, things get a lot more prickly for finding invalidating art.

What is more interesting is that SAP is a German company, and it is entirely possible that they have servers set up outside the US - perhaps they can avail themselves of the Federal Circuit's RIM decision to claim non-infringement due to steps performed outside the US . . .

Stay tuned.

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