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Tuesday, May 01, 2007, 05:00 am PT (08:00 am ET)

Apple slapped with iTunes customization lawsuit

A new lawsuit is charging Apple's iTunes Store, and almost everything it touches, with overstepping the boundaries of a smaller firm's patents, AppleInsider has learned.

Filed on April 24th in the now infamous Marshall, Texas court division, the 5-page formal complaint by Internet media firm Individual Network LLC alleges that Apple's iTunes Store is violating a patent relating to targeted media delivery.

Addressed in the patent, titled "Method and System for Providing a Customized Media List," is the concept of tailoring a list of digitally transmitted content based on personalized info. Ads, music, and TV shows could be selectively shown to the user once a database server compares its media library against a user's recent choices. This last aspect could include anything from personal profiles to the user's playback history.

All of this will be familiar to regular customers of Apple's service. Individual Network effectively claims that the aspects of iTunes Store's front-end which narrow content based on an Apple ID's data and habits — such as the genre tabs that have appeared in the main window, or the Just For You feature — directly infringe on the patent, supposedly causing serious damage to the LLC's business.

The question of prior art may loom over the case from the outset. While the patent itself was filed in July of 2002, almost a year before the inception of the music-only iTunes Store, the plaintiff's own argument points to the patent's official issue date as October 3, 2006 — roughly a year after Just For You made its public debut as part of iTunes 6 and later still compared to the iTunes Store's tabs.

Whichever claim holds the most merit, the consequences for Apple of losing the case would prove more severe than the other suit filed in April by IP Innovation.

Individual Network's complaint accuses Apple's entire music ecosystem of profiteering from iTunes sales and points to anything which can download copies of that content, including the iPod, as contributing to the reported damage. If won under ideal circumstances, the suit would grant the plaintiff not just royalties for every iTunes song or video sold but also a "reasonable" percentage of the revenue from associated devices such as all iPods. The Apple TV and iPhone may also be subject to a future ruling.

The jury trial demanded by the complainant also pushes for a permanent injunction that would block any sales of unlicensed iTunes and iPod goods, forcing the Cupertino-based electronics maker to accommodate Individual Network's demands even during the possible appeals process.

As with the suit from two weeks ago, Apple has already received its formal notice; however, the company has so far maintained its typical silence on legal matters, preferring instead to let the court system speak for itself.