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Philips leaks Intertrust 'open' DRM details

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Philips has let the cat out of the bag on an open secret around the consumer electronics industry, by promising to launch an open Digital Rights Management system inside the next six months built around the Intertrust patents. It says that it is working with Sony, the co-owner of Intertrust, and that the system will be open to all companies that want to make music or video players for a reasonable fee.

The two companies are clearly in deep discussion with everyone in the industry, content owners and electronics competitors, and plan to launch this new system with support from every major player out there. An interesting question is whether or not they will have Microsoft's support.

The news came as Ruud Peters, chief executive of Philips's intellectual property and standards unit, spoke to Reuters, revealing the plan in late December, and this early leak of technology may have been prompted by the announcement in mid-December of a new DRM interoperability standards effort called the Content Reference Forum led by Microsoft.

Microsoft announced this with Macrovision, Contentguard, Vivendi's Universal Music, NTT, ARM and Verisign as starter members.

Faultline speculated at the time that the absence of further legal moves between Intertrust and Microsoft to settle their patent dispute was a clue that the parties had come to some kind of agreement on how each company was to proceed in DRM. Perhaps the interoperability move by Microsoft was a way of opening up DRM to include the Intertrust technology.

It is just as likely that the Microsoft interoperability forum is all about placating content companies while still trying to establish a monopoly in DRM, while Sony and Philips work flat out to work their own brand of magic. However the absence of any further progress on the Intertust versus Microsoft legal action, still has to be explained.

InterTrust filed its initial patent infringement suit in April 2001 in the US District Court for the Northern District of California and it has been subsequently expanded. Intertrust itself was purchased by a joint venture between Philips and Sony, which now plans to launch this system within six months.

The system is said to allow consumers to play digital video and music on any digital media player regardless of the playing technology. Some DRM systems currently will only work with a particular media player resident in software or work better with certain pieces of software, such as Microsoft DRM and Microsoft Window Media 9.

Philips emphasized the openness of its anticipated offering saying that both consumers and electronics companies want an open standard, not a proprietary one.

"The electronics industry recognizes that Microsoft is a formidable player, but consumer electronics makers do not want to become dependent on Microsoft. They need an interoperable and independent system," said Peters. "DRM is an accelerator which will boost digital sales of media, because it will convince media companies their content is protected. It should not be a competitive weapon," he added.

"We hope to have an interoperable system between now and six months," Peters said. When launched, the new DRM system will emerge with wide industry support and there are obviously significant efforts going on in the background to build support from major players.

copy; Copyright 2004 Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of events that have happened each week in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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