Yahoo must pay $15 million in litigation with search competitor, jury rules

A Texas software company that accused Yahoo of illegally copying its patented web search method has been awarded $15 million by an Oakland federal jury that has ruled against the tech giant .

Droplets Inc. was granted a patent in 2004 for programming that allows users to fetch selected parts of a website without having to download an entire webpage. After filing infringement lawsuits against major tech companies, the company has struck licensing deals with nearly all of them – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and YouTube – but not with Sunnyvale-based Yahoo and its investment firm. control, Altaba.

Yahoo claimed to have developed its own search methods years before Droplets. But U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar declined to dismiss the lawsuit last July, and after a three-week-and-one-and-a-half-day trial of deliberations, a 10-member jury unanimously ruled Monday that the Search Suggest feature from Yahoo, which allows users to type in individual words for quick searches, copied a patented Droplet method.

Jurors found the infringement was not “intentional” and dismissed claims against four other Yahoo programs. But Courtland Reichman, a lawyer for Droplets, said the verdict was a significant victory.

“It validates decades of effort on their part in that they’ve changed the way the internet works,” he said. “You have to protect inventors or they will stop inventing.”

Woody Jameson, an attorney for Yahoo, noted that Droplets had sought damages of up to $260 million in the case. But he said Yahoo would appeal the verdict.

“Yahoo has taken this case to court because it strongly believes that the Droplets patent has nothing to do with Yahoo’s technology,” Jameson said in a statement. “While we were certainly hoping for a full defense verdict, we are pleased that the jury entirely rejected Droplets’ claim that four of the five technologies charged violated” patents.

“We remain confident that when the litigation process is completed, Yahoo will be found not to infringe Droplets’ patent,” Jameson said.

Reichman said Droplets is set to go to trial in June in a related patent infringement lawsuit against retailer Nordstrom Inc.

Bob Egelko is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @BobEgelko