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Patent lawsuit of the week: BetaNet goes after Apple and more


Word from Jim Dalrymple at The Loop tonight that Monday brought a new patent lawsuit against Apple... and 17 other tech companies, including Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, Sony, Kodak (!) and more. This time, the complaining company, BetaNet, has a 1993 patent that it says covers a "Secure System for Activating Personal Computer Software at Remote Locations."

While the patent holders clearly feel they have a pretty broad front to attack on, reading the complaint over at Justia makes it seem a little... well, I'm not a lawyer or a patent expert, but there's some confusion here. Have a look at the section of the complaint dealing with Apple:

Upon information and belief, Defendant Apple has been and now is directly infringing, and indirectly infringing by way of inducing infringement and/or contributing to the infringement of the '476 Patent in the State of Texas, in this judicial district, and elsewhere in the United States, by, among other things, using, selling and offering to sell computer software via a process that provides a program file – having a loader segment and a registration shell portion – to a remote computer having a display. The program file lacks a critical portion that prevents the program file from operating properly. User identification information is entered in the registration shell portion, and transmitted from the registration shell to a separate registration program provided in a registration computer. The registration program merges user identification data with the critical portion to generate a unique overlay file that is transmitted from the registration program to the registration shell. The overlay file contains the critical portion originally lacking from the program file, and it is installed in the program file, thereby allowing operation of the program file. For example, without limitation, Defendant Apple is marketing, distributing, using, selling, and offering to sell its iTunes, Aperture, QuickTime, and MobileMe programs. Defendant Apple is thus liable for infringement of the '476 Patent pursuant to 35 U.S.C. § 271(a), (b) & (c).
OK, sure, that's one way you could handle remote registrations and software serialization, but how do we know that's the way Apple does it exactly? It actually sounds more like Sassafras's K2 to me. What 'critical portions' of these apps are supposed to be missing from the downloaded installation content?

Also, I might draw your attention to the examples of allegedly infringing software at the bottom of the paragraph... the " iTunes, Aperture, QuickTime, and MobileMe programs" that are of such concern? Well, as we all know, two of them are free, which means they aren't sold or serialized at all (if they meant QuickTime Pro, they should have said QuickTime Pro), and one of them isn't a 'program' but rather an online service. Nice research work, lawyers of BetaNet; you should feel proud.

We'll run this one by our resident legal eagles and get their take. Another week, another patent case!

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