And that's what they did.
A small, nearly non-existing, Norwegian company called Addrezz filed a patent for 'automatic distribution of updated contact information' and claim that 24SevenOffice has violated this patent. What this patent supposedly covers is basically the same service as Plaxo provides: Sending out an e-mail to a person, allowing the person to update his/her contact details in a form and then update the contact details in a database (plaxo/outlook in this example). We have a similar service called 24SevenUpdate which I developed last year - and I wrote about it here.
The system comprises one or more information database(s), either external or integrated in the system, and a central storage device identifying users of the system through uniquely identifiable profiles and the contact lists of the users by means of a specification of a number of contact for each user. Further, when a need of information concerning one or more certain contact(s) being specified as contact(s) of the user occurs on a user terminal, a means (e.g. a node, a server, a portal, a platform) provides distribution of information regarding the request for information from one or more information database(s) to the terminal of said user through one or more communication networks. The information is referably adjusted to automatically update the register(s) on the platforms of the terminals of the respective one or more users, e.g. the contact register in Microsoft Outlook. When a user adds and/or removes one or more contacts in the contact register of one of his/her terminals, the system will accordingly update the contact list of that user in the central storage device, and through this also other contact registries the user might have in other terminals.
As we can read in the abstract, the patent is very generic. To quote my boss: "This is like patenting how to ride a bicycle".
We shouldn't have any problems winning the case if this ends up in the courtroom.
If you are from Norway you can read more at http://www.digi.no/php/art.php?id=313341
Addrezz holds this patent in Europe only. So Plaxo in the US is not violating this patent.