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New Digital Media Patent Could Upset Apple Cart

ZapMedia Services, which owns the patent for what some view as a digital rights management platform, has put it up for sale.

A company formed after the burst of the Internet bubble to control assets of defunct ZapMedia Inc. has received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that could potentially send shock waves through industries that distribute digital audio and video content over the Internet.

ZapMedia Services, which now owns Patent No. 7,020,704, has put it up for sale. Organizing negotiations, Atlanta-based Lava Group Inc., which manages patents and intellectual property, has been fielding calls from executives becoming aware of ZapMedia's portfolio.

ZapMedia's patent describes a distribution model for audio and video digital content, a combination of streaming media from a portal to many devices, and what some might consider a digital rights management platform.

The patent, issued in March, is the first in the portfolio to gain approval. Three other patents are pending, said Lava Group president and CEO Robert Frohwein on Wednesday. "The patent covers content that's acquired and licensed over the Internet, as well as content that you may have acquired or licensed and uploaded to the portal," he said. "Until now, the patent has really flown under the radar because it's not assigned to a particular company. Claim No. 7 is particularly important."

Claim No. 7, which pertains to the media asset management system, is expected to create the most controversy. The first portion of the claim refers to a user account that corresponds with at least one person, and a virtual media asset library with reference to multiple assets the user has a license to access. The second portion of Claim No. 7 refers to software that can connect the media portal to more than one device.

Andrew Floam, an attorney with Rockville, Md.-based intellectual property law firm Edell, Shapiro & Finnan, wrote and filed the patent in 1999, when he worked at the Atlanta intellectual property law firm Needle and Rosenberg. "I haven't thought about the patent in years and wondered what happened to it," he said. "I thought the idea was a little out there at the time because no one distributed audio and video media assets on the Internet."

Floam remembers ZapMedia having difficulties gaining the rights to distribute media assets over the Internet. Ironically, Apple Computer Inc. may not have been the initial innovator to many of these emerging technologies and could become subject to third-party patent rights, he said.

ZapMedia, however, isn't interested in enforcing the rights. Instead, the company plans to leave that up to the patent's new owners.

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