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Mystery co. sues Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle...

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An east-Texas company, BetaNet LLC, has filed a patent-infringement suit against Apple, Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle, IBM, SAP, and a dozen other companies.

The patent in question, "Secure system for activating personal computer software at remote locations," describes in sweeping terms a remote software installation and registration process that - at first blush - appears to be similar if not identical to the standard activation system used by a vast array of software.

Exactly who or what is BetaNet LLC, and what is their relationship with the asignee of the original patent, Tau Systems Corporation? And seeing as how the patent was granted to Tau Systems in 1993, why the wait of over 16 years to claim infringment?

We asked those and other questions of BetaNet's lawyer in the Longview, Texas offices of Spangler Law, P.C., a firm specializing in patent-infringement cases, and he declined to respond, even refusing to identify BetaNet. His repeated comment: "I'm sorry but I have no comment."

The full list of defendants in the lawsuit, filed in the US District Court of Eastern Texas, is an impressive cadre of deep-pocket targets: Adobe, Apple, Arial Software, Autodesk, Carbonite, Corel, Kodak, IBM, Intuit, Microsoft, McAfee, Online Holdings, Oracle, Rockwell, Rosetta Stone, SAP, Siemens, and Sony.

The abstract of patent #5,222,134, the core of the dispute, describes a system in which, after registration, an "overlay" is transmitted to the licensee's computer that "includes critical portions of the main program, without which the main program would not operate and also contains licensee identification and license control data."

In the suit, specific applications are called out as infringing on the patent. Apple, for example, is said to infringe upon it in iTunes, Aperture, QuickTime, and MobileMe. Considering that iTunes and QuickTime are free and thus don't require registration (an email address is reqested, but not required), it's difficult to understand how the "the main program would not operate", as described in the patent, without the aforementioned "overlay."

Other specifically cited apps seem iffy, as well, such as Adobe Acrobat - which isn't an app, per se, but actually a family of apps that includes the free Acrobat Reader.

Such oversight may simply be sloppy lawyering, but there are plenty of other paid apps cited in the suit, from Adobe Creative Suite to Microsoft Office to SAP Xcelsius and more. Many more. ®

Bootnote

If the terms "patent" and "US District Court of Eastern Texas" ring a bell, it may be because that's the court in which a judge granted an injunction this August to prevent Microsoft from selling Word because it infringed on a patent owned by Canadian software firm i4i. Redmond's appeal of that judgment was heard in late September, with a decision expected soon.

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