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Wednesday, January 03, 2007, 08:00 am PT (11:00 am ET)

Apple, Google, Napster sued over digital download patent

Digital download icons Apple Computer, Google and Napster are on the receiving end of a new lawsuit claiming patent infringement.

According to the New York Times, defunct video-on-demand company, Intertainer, last week filed a broad lawsuit asserting that three companies are infringing on a 2005 patent that covers the commercial distribution of audio and video over the Internet.

The paper said the Intertainer — founded in 1996 by a veteran film producer and two Hollywood entertainment executives — developed technology to distribute movies on demand through cable and phone lines for viewing on televisions and personal computers.

Before ceasing operations five years ago, Intertainer's investors were reported to included industry heavyweights such as 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," Jonathan T. Taplin, one of the company's founders, told the Times.

Lawyers representing Mr. Taplin told the paper that the suit targets Apple, Google and Napster because "they were perceived as leaders in the market for digital downloads."

Intertainer is said to hold nine patents, including United States Patent No. 6,925,469, which was issued in 2005 and is intended to cover the management and distribution of digital media from various suppliers.

However, the Times cites digital media experts who say Intertainer might have a difficult time enforcing its patent because of its relatively recent filing date of 2001.

By that time, the paper said, Real Networks, for example, had already begun an Internet subscription service for digital content.