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For the past 8 years E-Data has been terrorizing just about who ever it can with a single broad patent claim that it owns the rights to virtually any technology that allows a product to be downloaded to a kiosk and copied.

After various false starts from 1995 onwards it won an appeal case against Compuserve in the US in 1999. Now it is coming after European companies that download music, video or software programs to kiosks, that need to be written onto separate media.

It's latest move suggests that the online music distribution deal between Microsoft and On Demand Distribution, in conjunction with ISP Tiscali, breaches what it known as its "Freeney" patent.

So far E-Data has either sued or signed distribution agreements with hundreds of companies, including Agfa, Adobe, Apogee, Intuit, McGraw Hill and Dun & Bradstreet. A recent settlement in Europe with Satellite Newspapers is encouraging it to try to establish the patent as valid in Europe. The Satellite Newspapers' system downloaded newspapers to a kiosk for on-demand printing of newspapers.

However in its original settlement papers in the US, the patent was clearly limited to processes where people travel from their homes to go to a kiosk with the sole purpose of downloading and writing something onto a digital media format and taking it home. Though even that is far too broad to define a technology.

The online music service that it is now suing is targeted at home users and it may well be beyond its patent claim. Microsoft is almost certain to fight the claim. The E-Data release states, "The OD2 platform enables Tiscali Music Club customers to download individual music tracks for a fee using Microsoft's Windows Media Player and Digital Rights Management technology."

It goes on, "Microsoft, Tiscali, and On Demand Distribution are in blatant violation of our patents by jointly enabling consumers across Europe the ability to download music tracks. The Freeny patent covers the downloading and recording of information, such as music, from a computer onto a tangible object, such as CDs, DVDs and MP3 players. As a result, we are seeking an injunction to prevent further violation of our intellectual property."

There were many services that allowed the download of software over the internet prior to the patent being awarded and we know of some dating back to 1993. The only patent that would hold would be a single specific approach to downloading, not the concept itself. The company also has pending litigation against HMV Group and a prior suit against On Demand Distribution in the UK.

Companies that scour the markets for publicly available and obvious existing processes and them file patents for them are retrograde and slow down the pace of innovation. This company is just like others that establish a patent that does not rest on its own inventiveness and who have never tried to exploit the technology in any way directly by bringing products to market. It would be fitting if it were bankrupted in the European courts and if this led to its successful US appeal being re-examined.

© Copyright Rethink Research Associates 2003

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