Patently Absurd

Priceline’s Litigious Founder Jay Walker: I Am Not a Troll

Mr. Cohen, left, and Mr. Walker, right, under the image of Mr. Walker in 1999.

In Connecticut in 1997, Jay Walker, inventor, created the idea for a “demand collection system,” which is how he describes the mechanism behind Priceline.com. Priceline, of course, lets customers name their own price and other conditions, input their credit cards and agree to rent a hotel, flight, car or whatever, typically sight unseen.

At the time, the New York Times called Priceline a “reverse auction,” a term that has stuck around long enough to work its way into the consciousness of moderator and adjunct professor Aaron Cohen, who made the mistake of employing it during an interview on Tuesday night at NYU for a series called Inside the Internet Garage produced by NYU Steinhardt.

Priceline is not a reverse auction, emphasized Mr. Walker—a slight, grey-haired man with dark eyebrows and a sense of righteousness—before an audience of students. “Saul Hansell, who was the journalist for the New York Times, was lazy and stupid,” he declared, “and I told him so numerous times.”

The quibble was the beginning of an at-times contentious look back at the history of Priceline, now one of the most valuable Internet companies based in New York with a market cap of $37.21 billion, and whether Mr. Walker’s numerous lawsuits over patent infringement constitute a tax on innovation. Read More