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January 3, 2007

Microsoft investment Intertainer sues Apple, Google, and Napster

Posted by David Hunter at 6:52 PM ET.

John Markoff and Miguel Helft spin a strange tale at the New York Times:

Last week, Intertainer filed a broad lawsuit asserting that Apple, Google and Napster are infringing on a 2005 patent that covers the commercial distribution of audio and video over the Internet.

Founded by Mr. Taplin and two other Hollywood entertainment executives in 1996, Intertainer developed technology to distribute movies on demand through cable and phone lines for viewing on televisions and personal computers. It gained investors including Intel, Microsoft, Sony, NBC and Comcast.

“Intertainer was the leader of the idea of entertainment on demand over Internet platforms before Google was even thought up,” said Mr. Taplin, now an adjunct professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. He and a secretary constitute the entire remaining staff of Intertainer.

Intertainer’s tale is somewhat different than other intellectual property suits brought by technology licensing firms. By 2002 the company seemed to have a growing business, with 125,000 Internet subscribers for its servers and 35,000 TV subscribers through the Comcast cable system.

But in the fall of 2002, the company shut down its service and filed a lawsuit against some of the backers of Movielink, a competitor backed by five Hollywood studios, including Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers. At the time Mr. Taplin said the studios were using Movielink as a price-fixing vehicle to kill Intertainer.

That suit was settled for an undisclosed sum last March and now Intertainer is merely a “patent licensing business.” There are more interesting details in the full story including questions of obviousness and prior art, but here’s the Microsoft hook:

Despite initial backing from Microsoft and Intel, Mr. Taplin said the two companies were not involved in the decision to bring the Apple, Google and Napster lawsuit. He said that decision was made by Intertainer’s board and that none of his original corporate backers have board seats. Several of the company’s original investors have taken patent licenses, he said, but he would not name the companies.

Nice disclaimer, but what do you think the chances are that Microsoft doesn’t have a license?

Filed under Microsoft, Patent Lawsuits, Patents

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