• United States

Gold digging? Maybe not.

Jul 03, 20033 mins
Data Center

This week’s news that Friskit, a company many probably haven’t heard of, is suing RealNetworks and, companies more in the industry know, for patent infringement looks at first blush like a case of gold digging. I’ve ranted in the past about companies that dig up old patents on now ubiquitous technology in order to make a few bucks off an unsuspecting industry (see here for a prime example). When I first heard about this suit, I thought it was going to be another example of greed. After hearing from Friskit Chairman and CEO George Aposporos, my first impression may have been wrong.

First some quick background on Friskit from Aposporos:

[Friskit] is a Web-based app that would start playing music from mixes that our editors would compile. Enter “Barenaked Ladies” in the search box and hit go, it would start playing the Barenaked Ladies. It starts playing all the songs that we identified on the web that were Barenaked Ladies songs and started playing the songs. It’s personal radio.

The original implementation of Friskit culled its search results from public sites, not peer-to-peer networks such as Kazaa. However, the legal types that advised the company didn’t really like this idea, since one could not ensure the music was legally posted. (You know what the say about assume.) Now the company hopes to license its intellectual property (patents) or sell the technology as a private-label search service. Friskit currently has three patents (with more pending):

• US Patent 6,389,467 : “Streaming Media Search and Continuous Playback System of Media Resources Located by Multiple Network Addresses” • US Patent 6,484,199: “Streaming Media Search and Playback System for Continuous Playback Through a Network” • US Patent 6,519,648: “Streaming Media Search and Continuous Playback of Multiple Media Resources Located on a Network ”

So why are they suing Real and, which is being acquired by Real? Friskit believes the search technology in RealOne player, which helps power Real’s subscription service, and’s Rhapsody search and play capability violate the Friskit patent. It’s not about creating playlists, which any media application can do. “It’s the integration of search and having sequential play out of it or selectable playlist out of the results,” Aposporos says. First Friskit is looking for an injunction against the two parties that would force them to stop using their search and play technology. Second, the company is seeking damages based on the revenues gained from the defendant’s use of the technology.

Aposporos and his colleagues believe that as more media goes online, technology like his will become more and more useful for managing the consumer experience. To make money and sustain the company, they have to defend their patent. They did develop the technology and they’re not waiting until every application under the sun uses it before enforcing the patents. Will they win? That’s for a jury to decide.

[Listening to: Who Needs Sleep? – Barenaked Ladies – Stunt [US] (03:44)]