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Patent Suit Targets Apple, Google, Napster

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Patents, the new business model? That’s what it feels like when you read about the latest technology lawsuit, from a failed business that is suing Apple, Google and Napster over the idea of distributing audio and video over the Internet.

A New York Times story today details the woes of a firm called Intertainer, an early-days distributor of on-demand movies over cable and phone lines that shut its doors in 2002. Intertainer’s entrepreneur, Jonathan T. Taplin, certainly may have been a visionary, but now he is just another in a growing list of market-chasers who want a piece of the success that the original businesses could never achieve, except at the patent office.

The Times story didn’t provide much on the possible outcomes — the lawyers for Intertainer didn’t specify damages and Google, Apple and Napster didn’t comment — but if the case has any credibility it could potentially put a damper on adoption rates for Apple’s forthcoming iTV Net-to-TV device and its iTunes distribution system, which is also coming under legal fire from the consumer side. For Google and Napster, patent concerns could just add costs to expensive businesses that have yet to figure out a profitable operation model.

We’re sure bright minds like Mr. Taplin feel like they have a case to press, and thanks to our legal system and eager lawyers, we are sure he will have his day in court. But is there any business success these days, in digital downloads or even topics as obvious as voice mail and email, that isn’t being chased by wronged patent-holders with baseball bats? Maybe Nathan Myhrvold had the right idea, after all.

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