Apple, Sony sued over data vending patent infringement

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An inventor is suing Apple and Sony claiming that the two companies' respective online media distribution systems infringe on a data vending patent issued in 2004.

Two separate lawsuits filed in California on Tuesday allege that Apple's iTunes and Sony's Playstation Network both use so-called data vending technology, or a broad system that lets users store and manage digital content like music, video and software on electronic devices.

Intellectual property attorneys from The Lanier Law Firm are representing inventor Benjamin Grobler who was issued U.S. Patent No. 6,799,084 describing a system in which digital data is distributed to an electronic devices called a "data depot" for storage and management. The IP also calls for a remote database that maintains ownership and user records.

"Tech giants can't just take an inventor's work and use it as their own," said attorney Chistopher Banys, head of the nationwide property practice at Lanier. "This lawsuit represents our client's effort to bring some accountability to the system."

From the invention's summary:

a data depot for storing one or more data type selected from the group comprising digitised or analogue music, video, games, information, and computer programs;

a data dispensing device in communication with the data depot;

a uniquely identifiable recordable data carrier configured for recording data from the data dispensing device; and

a database for keeping a record of the data recorded by a user onto said data carrier, at least a part of which database is stored remotely from said data carrier.

Grobler contends that the patent was sought to reconcile copyright royalty losses due to the unauthorized use of data, usually in the form of ripped CDs or other copied media. The IP does not cover sales of media, stating: "This system, however, does not address the end user's ownership of digitised data nor the license held by the end user of the digitised data as the system is supplier orientated and not end user orientated. There is thus little incentive for a user to accept the system as a sole unified information sales system."

Illustration of the '084 patent outlining a data depot and distribution system. | Source: USPTO

The '084 patent was filed for in January 2001, three weeks after Apple first launched iTunes and ten months before the introduction of the iPod. Since its debut, the Cupertino, Calif., company's all-encompassing system has become near ubiquitous and its name is synonymous with online media distribution.

As for Grobler's claims against Sony, the filing's issuance pre-dates the launch of Sony's Playstation Network by over two years.

Grobler is not mentioned as the inventor in any outstanding patent filings, nor is he the holder of any other issued U.S. patents.