Thursday, January 13, 2005

Altnet sends warning letters over hashing patents

Attorneys for Altnet Inc. and its parent company, Brilliant Digital Entertainment Inc., have sent warning letters over US 5,978,791 and 6,415,280 to several U.S.-based file-swapping firms, including Lime Wire LLC, BearShare operator Free Peers Inc. and Mashboxx. Ironically, Altnet sued the RIAA over one of these patents in federal district court in Los Angeles last fall.

A circularized warning was of the form:

"Based upon our investigation, we believe that other peer-to-peer applications, including applications offered by your company, use the technology claimed in the Data Distribution Patents for identifying, accessing, and distributing data items between computers. Accordingly, we believe that your company requires a license from BDE and Altnet to continue practicing the ‘791 and ‘280 Patents with your company’s peer-to-peer application."

from the David McGuire of Washington Post:

-->The technology at issue is "hashing" -- a method for assigning a unique tag or "hash" to a digital file. By comparing the hashes, rather than entire files, file-swapping software can quickly process users' requests for specific songs, movies or other files.

Altnet licenses the patents from Ronald Lachman, a Northbrook, Ill., technology entrepreneur. Lachman, who has started several high-tech firms, was appointed chief science officer at Brilliant Digital in 2003.

Benjamin Hershkowitz, an intellectual-property attorney at Kenyon & Kenyon in New York, said the letters are consistent with an effort to profit from the technology rather than prevent people from using it. "If you wanted to keep your technology exclusive to you, you try to shut people down by getting an injunction." <--

Of the injunction matter, the plaintiff has to show that it is likely he will succeed at trial on the infringement issue. did this in the Barnes & Noble case, but the district court decision was later overturned by the CAFC. "If" the defendant can raise a credible invalidity defense (e.g., obviousness), then the injunction probably will not be granted. Further, if the patentee makes serious threats of action, then there is the possibility that the accused party will file a declaratory judgment (DJ) action. A credible invalidity defense may be viable here.

Ian Clarke wrote:

-->It isn't hard to see why the TrueNames patent wasn't very valuable to Digital Island. Essentially it represents requesting a piece of information from a remote server using the "hash" of that information's content. A "hash" is a mathematical fingerprint of a piece of data, in essence a very large number which will always be the same for two identical pieces of data. Hashes can be generated in a wide variety of ways, and the technique has been around and in wide usage in computer science circles since before I saw my first keyboard.

Hashes are a common way to retrieve information, for example - the "hashtable" datastructure, also around since before I knew what a keyboard was, stores data in memory which can be retrieved using a hash of that data.

The Truenames patent claims that the application of hashes to retrieving information over a network constitutes a non-obvious invention. It is so non-obvious, in fact, that the technique is widely used in internet related applications, created both before and after the Truenames patent was filed. The only reason that nobody thought to patent it before was that they didn't believe the USPTO could posibly approve something so obvious. Clearly they aren't very familiar with the USPTO. <--

from the net: The "TrueNames" patent (5,978,791), besides lifting its nickname from a 1981 Vernor Vinge novella, claims invention of the old and trivial technique of using strong hashes as hashtable keys. A second patent spun out of the first (6,415,280) claims invention of the idea of requesting documents from network servers by unique identifier.


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