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Intertrust offers cut price DRM patents for OMA and Marlin

Designed to undermine the MPEG LA patent pool

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DRM intellectual property business Intertrust has issued a license price for its patent portfolio that is designed to totally undermine the existing MPEG LA patent pool for the Open Mobile Alliance DRM 2.0 system, although it’s being very careful not to say that out loud.

An MPEG LA patent pool had initially issued a $1.00 per handset price, with a further $0.25 cents per user per year, and then reduced this to $0.65 per handset.

The active members of the MPEG LA pools were Intertrust and its two parents Sony and Philips, plus Contentguard, now held by Microsoft, Time Warner and Thomson, with the final patent pool member being Matsushita.

Contentguard feels it holds essential patents in regard to how rights are expressed, using a rights expression language (REL), though this is coming more and more into question, as there are other, simpler ways of expressing rights, for instance defining a prior domain through registering a family’s or a businesses’ devices and limiting acquired rights to these.

But it is Intertrust’s pricing that is totally dismissive of the previous negotiations, which had outraged GSM Association members and led to the OMA washing its hands of the licensing process.

Intertrust is saying that the program offers licenses to OMA or to its own DRM system Marlin in one of two ways.

Either an active subscriber domain – which means a list of related devices belonging to the same individual or family – can pay €0.09 per year, which amounts to 12 US cents; or an operator can pay €0.015 per subscriber it has for 2007 rising gently to €0.030 (24 cents) in 2016 per subscriber per year, calculated against the total subscriber population of a service provider or network operator.

There are two things to note here. Firstly that this price, for the core elements of technology that are required for OMA, is far less than the entire MPEG LA license and as such it is supposed to tempt those that feel they can manage without the REL and the Matsushita patents. Secondly it does away with the up front cost per device.

CEO of Intertrust Talal Shamoon told us, “We engineered Marlin to work with OMA and to interoperate with it. So it makes sense for anyone doing a quadruple play to use Marlin on a PC and to allow it to create a domain that includes the cellphone, which is running OMA for DRM.” The Intertrust built Marlin is an off the shelf construction kit for making DRMs and it already has an interoperability bridge to OMA.

The program provides a license to all patents from Intertrust, Philips and Sony for use with OMA or Marlin services for a single price.

So far since the standoff between the MPEG LA and the GSM Association in May 2005, only Vodafone has moved to acquire an Intertrust license for its DRM technologies. Intertrust made it clear to us several times that it couldn’t say that licensing Intertrust was sufficient to license OMA, and that each cellular operator should decide for itself what patent licenses it needed for its own technology implementation. The implication is clear that some of them might find that Intertrust was all they needed.

In April 2004 Microsoft agreed to pay Intertrust $440m in settlement of a patent infringement case, which gave Microsoft a license to the Intertrust technologies for a ten year period, but only on Microsoft platforms.

This is almost certainly the reason that Microsoft has never come out with a DRM system for Symbian and Linux phones, because anyone that used it would still have to pay patent licenses to Intertrust.

This week Microsoft also tried to answer the Intertrust announcement and put a bomb under OMA DRM with a new DRM system it is calling 'Playready'.

Telefónica, O2, Verizon Wireless, Bouygues Telecom, and Cingular Wireless all came out in support saying they would use the technology, but of course once more it is only available on its own platforms including Windows Mobile 6.0, so there is still a desperate need for a broader based technology taking in Symbian, such as OMA.

Microsoft says that this system, unlike Windows Media 10 DRM allows permanent copies as well as subscriptions, and files can be flagged as rental, pay-per-view or be based on "super-distribution".

Playready is independent of file formats but contradicting this Microsoft says it supports Windows Media Audio, AAC and AAC+ and HE-AAC, Windows Media Video and H.264.

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

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

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