I know you all aren't patent lawyers but maybe I am missing something obvious?
How do these sites get away with breaking Elance's patent U.S. Patent 7,069,242 [guru, scriptlance, vworker, peopleperhour]???
I know the patent is incredibly silly, it basically patents how you find a web designer in the real world into the web. Call them, tell them your project, and get their estimate, and then call others, and choose. It's almost like patenting how to tie your shoe: put on foot, lace up, tie laces.
Since this patent is so broad in process; does it even hold any water? Is that why these other sites are not scared to do it?
Patents are worth exactly as much as the patent-holder's ability and willingness to sue.
My father holds several patents on retaining ring pliers. One of his competitors infringed, so he went lawyer-shopping. Since patent lawyers don't work on contingency, he amassed a multiple-$100K war chest, then brought the hammer down. The infringer was required to disgorge all profits from the infringement and stop manufacturing the competing pliers.
When Autodesk was about to do its IPO in the 80s, they were sued by the owner of an infamous submarine patent on using XOR to create cursors on a raster screen. Although there was tons of prior art, so the patent could easily have been defeated, fighting it would have delayed the IPO. So it was cheaper to pay off the scoundrel.
My guess is elance either doesn't have the money to sue, doesn't want to bother, or is afraid that if anybody fought back, the patent would be declared invalid.
You need to consider a number of things when looking at this scenario.
I recommend that you google your question. For instance, I found this discussion: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/768986.html When it comes to patents, what matters are the claims. You are really in trouble only if you implement exactly what the claims say.
For instance, in that particular patent, the first claim says:
(*) obviously, patent law is so much more messy than what I describe here, anyone can pretty much anyone else for anything, so if you are serious and betting real money on this, talk to a lawyer
They have US patent and probably patents registered in some other countries? You can always register you company (site) in some other jurisdiction not covered by this patent.
Basically patents aren't worth much these days unless:
Your prepared to fight and have deep enough pockets to do so.
Patents are so specific that if I know the patent I can still solve the same problem in a 10% different way and you can't touch me ... In software that can be write it in ruby rather than .net ...
You need to be worldwide or not at all, just host the server and company in a different location.
And lastly the patent office has no clue about hi-tech ... See patent on the hyperlink, facebooks recent patent on a news feed despite 10 years prior art from other parties ... There are lots of examples where a patent shouldn't have been granted ... So people have started ignoring them because it would cost more to prove it or winning the market is worth more than the cost of the law suit (Microsoft and apple over the last 20 years)