DRM provider Intertrust has had a tough enough time making inroads into the U.S. market with its promises to guard content providers’ content from piracy. On top of the marketing issues — aside from the resentment DRM provokes from consumers, many digital device manufacturers are reluctant to spend additional capital on licensing fees associated with digital copy protections — a Forbes profile of the Sunnyvale, CA.-based company and its CEO Talal Shamoon are under fire from some in the digital industry for the myriad patents Intertrust has been accumulating. So far, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is the only company Intertrust has sued for copyright infringement — the two settled in 2004. But by amassing more patents, it’s reasonable to assume that Intertrust, which is jointly owned by electronics giants Philips and Sony (NYSE: SNE), could become more litigious.
Intertrust currently has about 80 U.S. patents around “trusted computing,” which is an umbrella that covers DRM and other issues related to protecting intellectual property. Forbes notes that it has 144 more patents waiting for approval. Overseas, Intertrust holds 57 patents, with 150 still pending. One of the main goals Shamoon has laid down for Intertrust includes establishing the company’s Marlin open standard DRM system more widely. Two main companies stand in its way: Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), which has Fairplay and has dropped DRM covering music and kept it in place for movies and TV programming in its iTunes store; the other is its former legal sparring partner Microsoft, which uses and licenses its PlayReady standard.
To hear Shamoon tell it, wider acceptance of Marlin’s promise of interoperability would mean that consumers who pay for content wouldn’t be strictly tied to one device, such as an iPod or an Xbox. Shamoon is certainly good at presenting a more palatable view of Marlin’s DRM. Under his system, users would be encouraged to share among a variety of devices as license holders would receive the promise of getting paid. But as Wendy Seltzer, a fellow at Harvard Law’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, tells Forbes, DRM will always remain a maze for companies and consumers to get lost in. “A maze with lots of gates looks more open than a maze with just one path through it,” she says. “But in both cases, once you run in you’re confined within the predefined path.”