BBC – Electronics manufacturer SanDisk is facing a legal fight over its use of popular MP3 compression technology.

German officials seized MP3 players from SanDisk’s booth at the IFA show in Berlin after an Italian patents firm won an injunction against the company.

Italian patents company Sisvel alleges that SanDisk refuses to pay licensing fees it needs to playback MP3 files.

SanDisk also faces a lawsuit brought by Sisvel in a German court, but denies that its products infringe patents.

SanDisk has recently launched new MP3 players based on flash memory, with capacities of up to 8GB, in an attempt to challenge the dominance of Apple’s iPod nano.

But a raft of new products were removed from the company’s stand at the IFA show in Berlin after Sisvel applied for an injunction, Sisvel told the BBC News website.

‘No progress’

According to Giustino de Sanctis, head of Sisvel’s US-based subsidiary Audio MPEG, SanDisk’s refusal to purchase an MP3 licence leaves them out of step with some 600 other manufacturers and software developers. “By definition you have to follow the standard,” Mr de Sanctis said.

Mr de Sanctis said the fact that SanDisk players were able to play MP3 files meant the company was legally required to purchase a licence.

“It is just not possible to do it any other way,” he said.

Mr de Sanctis said the Berlin criminal court issued an injunction against SanDisk and officials visited the company’s booth at the IFA show to seize and remove MP3 players.

“We are not getting anywhere with them,” Mr de Sanctis said, explaining the decision to apply for an injunction.

“We have 600 licensees and we have to protect their rights, and the rights of the patent holders,” he added.

Sisvel’s founder Roberto Dini told the website DigitalLifestyles.info that SanDisk could gain an unfair edge over competitors and could potentially offer trade customers at the high-profile German show a lower price for its MP3 players.

“This is unfair competition,” Mr Dini told DigitalLifestyles.info.

Complex compression

SanDisk, which is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of flash memory products, acknowledged that it was facing a legal challenge over its MP3 players.

However, the company would not comment on Sisvel’s claim to have won an injunction in Berlin.

In a statement, SanDisk confirmed it is facing legal action in a court in Mannheim, Germany – a separate action also brought by Sisvel – but defended its audio technology.

“SanDisk is showing that its MP3 players operate a technology which is completely different from a certain audio data transmission and reception techniques that has been patented for Philips and others many years ago.”

“An expert opinion from one of the founders of MP3 digital audio compression substantiates SanDisk’s position. SanDisk is not infringing any patent in the pending litigation.”

The MP3 compression algorithm emerged in the 1990s following development efforts by two sets of technology companies and institutes.

Sisvel and its US subsidiary Audio MPEG issues MP3 licences on behalf of Dutch firm Philips, a French firm and a German research institute.

Another firm, Thomson, issues licences on behalf of a second group of developers.

Google is being sued for its voice over IP part of the Google Talk program

Rates Technology, Inc., a New York company is suing Google for patent infringement. The lawsuit relates to the Google Talk instant messaging and chat program. In particular, Rates Technology alleges that the Voice-over-IP (VoIP) part of the Google Talk program infringes two US patents held by Rates Technology relating to minimising long-distance call costs through use of the Internet.

As reported in CNET news, Rates Technology is alleged to be a patent holding company and does not have a competing product, but instead makes money out of filing patent infringement lawsuits.

Google has stated that they believe the lawsuit is without merit and that they will defend it vigorously.

Rates technology President, Jerry Weinberger, is reported to have said that Rates Technology has also sued Vonage and Cablevision for patent infringement. One-time technology usage fees have been paid by Yahoo, Microsoft, Cisco, Lucent and others, and Rates Technology is in discussions with eBay over their Skype technology, presumably relating to the SkypeOut part of their service.

Mr Weinberger is reported to have said:

“When a VoIP call can be transferred to the regular PSTN (telephone network), the switching of that call infringes our patent.”

Visto sues Microsoft for patent infringement over Windows Mobile platform.

Mobile e-mail solutions vendor sues Microsoft for use of allegedly infringing technology in its Windows Mobile 5.0 platform.

In papers filed in U.S. District Court in Texas, Visto has complained that Microsoft has infringed 3 of its patents. To make matters more interesting, NTP, the company that sued Research In Motion (RIM) for alleged patent infringement, has acquired an equity interest in Visto as well signing a licensing agreement with them.

Launched last summer, one of the features of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 5.0 is an ability to connect directly to a Microsoft Exchange server, thereby enabling users to have direct access to e-mail and other classes of information. It is this ability, to receive e-mails delivered to mail servers located behind corporate firewalls, which Visto claims to have developed first and patented.

In a statement, Brian A Bogosian, CEO of Visto, stated:

“Microsoft has a long and well-documented history of acquiring the technology of others, branding it as their own, and entering new markets”

“In some cases, they buy the technology from its creator. In other cases, they wrongfully misappropriate the Intellectual property that belongs to others. For their foray into mobile e-mail and data access, Microsoft simply decided to misappropriate Visto’s well-known and documented patented technology.”

“Innovative companies have been pommeled out of existence or into minor players after Microsoft decided to enter their markets. Netscape and RealNetworks are among the best known examples. Courts around the world have ruled time after time against Microsoft, saying that it has acted either inappropriately or in violation of the law, especially concerning how they have treated competing companies. We will not let that happen to Visto.”

Pharmaceutical patent flexibility for developing countries

At a General Council meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), an amendment was agreed to the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

The amendment allows governments of developing nations to initiate manufacture of patent-protected pharmaceuticals without obtaining consent from the patent proprietor.

The amendment is designed to make it easier for poorer countries to obtain generic versions of pharmaceuticals when there is an imminent outbreak of an infectious disease.

The amendment (Article 31bis) is in three parts, the first of which allows pharmaceutical products to be made under compulsory licences and exported to countries lacking productions capacity.

Director-General, Pascal Lamy, is reported to have said:

“The agreement to amend the TRIPS provisions confirms once again that members are determined to ensure the WTO’s trading system contributes to humanitarian and development goals as they prepare for the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference.”

“This is of particular personal satisfaction to me, since I have been involved for years in working to ensure that the TRIPS Agreement is part of the solution to the question of ensuring the poor have access to medicines.”