Burst an underdog or patent troll for suing Apple, Microsoft for patent infringement?

“With just two employees, Burst holds 10 U.S. patents, and its focus is on asking big companies to license its technology — and suing them if they don’t,” Peter Burrows reports for BusinessWeek. “In March, 2005, Burst won a $60 million settlement from Microsoft Corp. The next target, [Burst co-founder Richard Lang] says, is Apple Computer Inc., which he says infringes on Burst’s patents covering superfast transmission of content, such as songs and video, over networks. He’s seeking a chunk of the tech giant’s burgeoning music revenues, and says he plans to sue in mid-April if no settlement is reached. That makes Burst, in many people’s eyes, a ‘patent troll.'”

“But it was never Lang’s plan to be in the litigation business. A legitimate visionary, he patented a method for transmitting data over digital networks that turned out to be years ahead of its time. His company once seemed poised to become a major tech player in its own right. But the hardball tactics of Microsoft blew apart Burst’s original business model, Lang claims, and gave him no choice but to turn to the courts,” Burrows reports. “The validity of Lang’s tale of woe will ultimately have to be determined by the courts, but right now he is not winning many friends in Silicon Valley. Burst is asserting very broad patents, and Lang has been making the rounds with veiled threats of infringement actions. He’s aiming for big payments. While Lang won’t discuss his hopes for the Apple claim, his lawyer cites as a point of reference other cases in which plaintiffs were rewarded more than 2% of infringing revenues. That would be about $200 million so far for Apple. ‘Burst.com approached Apple claiming that some of our products violate their patents, but we don’t agree,’ says an Apple spokesperson. On Jan. 4, Apple filed a suit seeking to invalidate Burst’s patents.”

“Lang recognized that shows could be sent faster than they could be viewed — in ‘bursts’ that took full advantage of momentary increases in network capacity, rather than in constant ‘streams.’ Indeed, at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, Lang drew a crowd with a demo in which 15-minute segments of a PBS documentary were zipped to a TV across the booth in seconds. ‘They were demonstrating things that other people couldn’t do,’ says tech pundit Robert X. Cringeley,” Burrows reports. “Apple reps had approached him at a trade show back in 1991, and Burst met with Apple in 1999, 2000, and 2002. ‘The attitude is exactly like it is at Microsoft and everywhere else. If you won’t take next to nothing [for Burst’s technology], we’ll fight you for the next 10 years,’ he says. That may well be what happens. Lang’s patents have never been upheld in court, and Apple will be a formidable foe. But he insists his easygoing style doesn’t tell the whole story: ‘I’m a bit of a terrier.'”

Full article with more here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “SkoobiDrew” for the heads up.]

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Related articles:
Burst.com sues Apple for iTunes, iPod, QuickTime patent infringement – April 17, 2006
Burst.com plans countersuit against Apple alleging iPod, iTunes patent infringement – January 06, 2006
Apple Computer sues Burst after negotiations over iTunes, iPod patent licenses breakdown – January 06, 2006

27 Comments

  1. Good one!

    I don’t know who is right on this one, but if you read the full article, it’s kind of hard to weigh in on behalf of MSFT and AAPL.

    Maybe (for a change) Lang can make Jobs cry – I would really appreciate that!

    I haven’t been to happy about Apple lately, and this just kind of confirms my fears that AAPL is just another clone….

  2. Patents should be like realestate and domain names: If you get it you’ve got a limited amount of time to do something with it, and if you don’t develop it any further than the idea stage, (after a period of time), its open season on your idea.

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