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'Automated browsing tool' patent holder sues Apple over iTunes, Apple TV

The owner of a patent related to "automated browsing" of Web content in a television-style format has accused Apple of stealing his ideas through products like the Apple TV and iTunes.

A new lawsuit was filed this week in a U.S. District Court in Delaware by the company Robocast against Apple. Robocast is the owner of U.S. Patent No. 7,155,451, entitled "Automated browsing system for publishers and users on networks serving internet and remote devices."

In its complaint, Robocast notes that the company's founder, Damon Torres, "pioneered the use of automated web browsing" in the '90s. It credits him for creating a "new paradigm" in the Web browsing experience.

"Mr. Torres foresaw the far broader potential of the Web as a medium for content delivery that functioned more like television, but with the significant benefits provided by user interactivity and control, and the vast resources accessible via the Internet," the complaint reads.

Torres originally filed his patent application in September of 1996, and by 2001 customers included Internet publisher Hachette Filipacchi and InfoSpace. Robocast was apparently also highlighted as part of the Microsoft TV developer program in 2001.

The lawsuit claims that Robocast technology was shown off at the Spring Internet World show in Los Angeles, Calif., in April 1999. At that show, it is claimed that Apple employee Fred Reynolds visited Robocast's booth and saw its product.


"Apple has since incorporated Robocast's patented automated browsing technology into a number of its products and services, including at least the following: Apple TV, FrontRow, and iTunes," the complaint reads.

Robocast has asked that the court find Apple in violation of the '451 patent. The company seeks either a permanent injunction against Apple, or that the court award Robocast a compulsory ongoing licensing fee.