In yet another case of either — take your pick — software patents run amok or a company trying to protect its intellectual property, peer-to-peer (P2P) company Altnet has sent letters to other P2Pnetworks seeking to make licensing agreements over what it says are infringing uses of its patented technology.
In September, Altnet sued the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA) over its use of the same technology. The letters asking for royaltieswere sent to P2P networks including BearShare, Limewire, MashBoxx, Shareazaand StreamCast. MashBoxx, which will allow for copyright-controlled P2P fileexchanges, has not yet been launched.
Hashing It Out Over Hashes
Altnet claims to hold patents related to “hashing,” which attaches a unique tag, or hash,to all copies of, for instance, the same song when they are downloadedonto the network, making it much faster and easier to search.
But members of the P2P community say that the technology is nothing new.
“Most P2P networks use this technique. It is a very obvious way toverify the integrity of files, and it has been in use for decadesbefore Altnet’s patent was filed,” Ian Clarke, creator of Freenet, toldTechNewsWorld.
Lawrence M. Hadley, attorney for Altnet and its parentcompany, Brilliant Digital, claims a federal jury has already upheld the validity of the patent.
Clarke, however, disagrees. “There is a vast amount of prior art for this patent which, contrary to theAltnet’s lawyer’s assertions in yesterday’s Washington Post article, hasnever had its validity confirmed in court,” he said. “This patent shouldn’t have beengranted in the first place, and shouldn’t survive if it is challenged.”
Altnet said in the letter that it had already come to terms on a licensingagreement with Sharman Networks, owner of P2P software Kazaa, and used that agreement tobolster its claim. Altnet and Sharman, however, have been partners since 2002. Thelink between the two has come up in an Australian court, where the musicindustry is suing Sharman.
Some members of the P2P community have speculated that defending against that lawsuit issucking dry the coffers of Sharman and Altnet, or that the patent infringement letter isjust a new attempt to gain revenue.
“I suspect their goal is to extort money from other peer-to-peerdevelopers by threatening them with litigation,” Freenet’s Clarke said.
On its Web site, altnet.com, the company describes itself as thecreator of “products that integrate with P2P applications and Web sites toallow content owners to securely deliver digital media over Altnet’s P2Pnetwork.”
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