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Audiohighway patents MP3 digital music player

Company sits back and waits for the royalties to flow in

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US purveyor of online music Audiohighway.com put the cat among the digital music pigeons yesterday when it announced it had been granted a key patent on portable digital audio players. The company applied for the patent, number 5,914,941, back in 1995. It describes the use of a "portable information storage/playback apparatus having a data interface" used to store and play back downloaded content regardless of the format that content is stored in. So essentially anyone who ever produces a digital audio player, such as Diamond Multimedia's Rio, now has to cough up a royalty to Audiohighway, something clearly not lost on the company. "There is an important market here," said Nathan Schulhof, Audiohighway.com's president and CEO. "I've heard reports predicting sales of portable digital audio players worldwide growing to more than 13 million units by 2002." And Audiohighway.com wants its cut. The company's claims to have invented the portable digital audio player derive from the Listen Up player it debuted at the 1997 Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At that time the company was called Information Highway Media Corporation, the change being made when it focused its interest on its Web site business. That shift also seems to have seen the end of the Listen Up project, which may never even have made it as a commercial product. Still, Audiohighway's patent isn't quite as generic as the company appears to claim -- it clearly states, for instance, that the device must hold music in some form of non-volatile memory, so presumably any player with battery-backed RAM is safe. The patent also specifies the use of a modem within the device, rather than the use of a PC as a download go-between, and other key hardware components. ®

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