updated 04:15 pm EDT, Wed March 28, 2012
Suit claims iTunes and PSN owe inventor credit
An attempt at two high-profile lawsuits has accused Apple and Sony of violating a patent for online stores. Pretoria, South Africa citizen Ben Grobler has alleged that both the iTunes Store and PlayStation Network (now Sony Entertainment Network) are copying technology for a "Data Vending System" patent granted in the US in 2004. Their systems of selling, storing, and managing copyrighted apps and media was drawing on the technology, Grobler said in a Northern District of California court.
The two patents appear based on the assumption that the filing date was key. The patent was only granted in 2004, a year after the iTunes Store had gone live, but had been filed on January 31, 2001. Grobler's claimed invention is otherwise generic and covers basics of running an organized download store that factors in copyright verification, a feature of virtually any direct download store.
As with most such lawsuits, the new complaints make clear that money is the primary goal, as they demand "no event less than a reasonable royalty." The lawsuits use the common call of a permanent ban to try and pressure the companies into settlements.
Whether or not the lawsuits succeed isn't clear. Along with possible prior art due to the broad nature of the patent, no mention was made of Grobler having warned either company that he owned the patent before he sued. Most companies that can claim sincere ownership of patented technology often try to make a public show of negotiation with possible violators to spare a trial. Grobler waited for eight years since receiving the patent before taking action, suggesting any alleged infringement wasn't an urgent issue.
Apple and Sony normally make it a policy not to comment on ongoing lawsuits.