Patents pressed against file-sharing networks

A software company and its parent are claiming they hold patent rights to widely used Internet file-swapping technology, and they are demanding that several file-sharing networks obtain licenses in order to continue operating, the Washington Post reported.

Attorneys for Altnet and its parent company, Sherman Oaks, CA-based Brilliant Digital Entertainment, sent letters to several U.S.-based file-swapping firms — including Lime Wire, BearShare operator Free Peers and Mashboxx — claiming that the companies were using patented technology in their products. The letter doesn’t explicitly threaten a lawsuit but does invite the firms to “discuss licensing opportunities.”

“You could call it a warning. We call it an offer to license our technology,” said Lawrence M. Hadley, counsel for Altnet and Brilliant Digital.

A valid patent would give the firm a tight hold on a popular means of identifying and trading digital copies of music, movies and software, just as a fledgling industry has sprung up to turn file sharing into a commercial enterprise.

Altnet has already signed a licensing deal for the technology with one of the largest peer-to-peer companies, Sharman Networks, which is based in the Republic of Vanuatu and is the firm that distributes Kazaa. Altnet’s software allows users to purchase licensed copies of music over the Kazaa network, the Post reported.

Several recipients of the letters predicted that Altnet’s patent claims are likely to be challenged.

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.

Back to the top