Adobe (s ADBE) is taking streaming media server startup Wowza Media to court, claiming it has infringed on patents related to its Flash Media Server software. Late last week, Adobe filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging patent infringement, false advertising and unfair competition on the part of the Wowza.
In particular, Adobe claims that Wowza infringes on patents related to its real-time messaging protocol (RTMP) and Encrypted RTMP (RTMPe) technology. The patents in the case are U.S. Patent Number 7,272,658, which was issued in September 2007; and U.S. Patent Number 7,587,509, which was issued in September 2009. Both patents relate to “Real-time priority-based media communication” that is used in its Flash video delivery.
Wowza’s big value proposition has been to offer an inexpensive media server platform for delivering video in Flash and other formats. The company was founded by Dave Stubenvoll and Charlie Good, two former Adobe engineers who were laid off as part of a reduction in force following Adobe’s acquisition of Macromedia in 2005. The two then reverse-engineered the Flash Media Server technology and introduced the first version of the Wowza Media Server, which Adobe says included an unauthorized version of RTMP, in February 2007. Later, it added what Adobe alleges is an unauthorized version of the RTMPe protocol in July 2008.
But Wowza has moved beyond just being a cheap way to deliver Flash streams a few years ago. Since introducing its alternative to Flash Medis Server, it has expanded its streaming media server platform to also include support for video delivery in Microsoft’s Silverlight, (s MSFT) iPhone, Android and Blackberry phones all in one box. It has therefore been able to rack up a number of customers — mainly web hosts and small CDNs that don’t want to have to license the Flash Media Server from Adobe or deploy multiple streaming servers for other platforms.
Adobe began openly licensing its Flash Media Server technology in April 2009, meaning that anyone could use it so long as they complied with the RTMP spec and the license. But Adobe says Wowza doesn’t comply, in part because it circumvents the RTMPe spec, which Adobe hasn’t made available through a public license. And as a result, it claims that Wowza is infringing on its intellectual property.
In addition to patent infringement, Adobe is taking Wowza to court for false advertising related to its claims of supporting RTMP and RTMPe on its website and in its sales literature. The suit also alleges that Wowza representatives misled potential customers on company forums. In 2007, in response to a question about potential legal issues from using Flash technology, a representative responded, “We have no legal issues with Adobe at this time and don’t expect any in the future.” And since Wowza’s implementation of RMTPe isn’t authorized, Adobe says that the streaming server startup is selling clients a version of the technology that isn’t as up to date as the official product, meaning that customers could be exposed to security issues.
For its part, Wowza maintains that the Adobe case is without merit and that it has been operating in good faith, telling Adobe about its plans before launching its product. In response to Adobe’s lawsuit, Wowza issued a statement denying Adobe’s charges, which quotes CEO David Stubenvoll with the words: “Adobe’s lawsuit against our company is completely without merit, and we look forward to resolving this matter in court.”