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German court rules SanDisk MP3 player seizure lawful

Patent infringement claim

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A German court has ruled that local Public Prosecution officers were right to seize SanDisk digital music players at the IFA consumer electronics show held in Berlin last September. SanDisk's players are accused of incorporating without permission technology owned by a number of European firms.

The Criminal Chamber of the Landgericht Berlin said the officers had "sufficient grounds for suspicion of deliberate patent infringement", rendering their decision to seize the Sansa music players and related marketing materials from SanDisk's IFA booth lawful. The officials were acting under the remit of a search warrant issued earlier by the Berlin Amtsgericht Tiergarten court.

The seizure followed complaints made about SanDisk to the Berlin Public Prosecution Office by Sisvel - the Società Italiana per lo Sviluppo dell'Elettronica - which licenses and manages a portfolio of digital audio patents on behalf of a number of European companies, including Philips and France Teleco.

Sisvel maintains SanDisk needs to license its patent portfolio, an allegation the memory card specialist rejects. In a statement, SanDisk denied infringing the Sisvel patents, claiming its players are based on "completely different" technology.

Sisvel has patent infringement lawsuits against SanDisk outstanding in the UK, Germany and the Netherlands. AudioMPEG, the Sisvel subsidiary that handles the intellectual property in the US, is suing SanDisk in the US District Court of Eastern Virginia. Sisvel said this week that MP3 player makers Apple, Microsoft and Creative have already licensed its technology, as have MP3-capable phone makers Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson.

SanDisk had disputed the Berlin Public Prosecution officers' right to seize its property at IFA. Indeed, the Amtsgericht Tiergarten subsequently ruled that the seizure had been disproportionate to the powers proved by the warrant. The Landgericht rejected that assessment and overrulled the lower court. ®

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