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Philips puts money into digital watermarking

The electronics maker invests in digital watermark company Digimarc, staking a claim to an emerging technology that links the Web with print media.

Philips Electronics today invested in digital watermark company Digimarc, staking a claim to an emerging technology that links the Web with print media.

The electronics giant, which makes everything from televisions to electric shavers, said it took a 12 percent stake in Digimarc via a $60 million joint investment with Macrovision. Macrovision, which develops copyright-protection software, has increased its stake in the company from 7 percent to 12.5 percent.

Philips and Lake Oswego, Ore.-based Digimarc also said they would form a new company to further develop technology to send digital watermarks--or invisible, electronic links to related information--through audio and video. The new company, which has yet to be named, will be based in the United States.

Digital watermarking is a way to embed undetectable digital code within content such as music, videos or print media. The codes contain basic information such as copyright protections or related information to what is being linked.

This past summer, Digimarc introduced free software to the public so that subscribers of various magazines using the technology could link enhanced advertisements to the Web. To use the technology, readers needed to hold up the ads to a Web camera that "read" them and then opened their Internet browsers to advertisers' Web sites.

The technology is competing against other emerging standards for bridging the Web with other mediums. DigitalConvergence has started an expansive campaign to introduce barcode scanners to consumers. Motorola, Symbol Technologies and European database maker Connect Things are also preparing to launch a venture that will incorporate Symbol's barcode technology into Internet-ready devices, including cellular phones.

"Strategic investments from major industry leaders Philips and Macrovision reflect their recognition of the significance of Digimarc's technology to the video and audio marketplace," Digimarc president Bruce Davis said in a statement.

Through its alliance with Philips, Digimarc hopes to make digital watermarks a standard feature within audio, video, secure documents and printed materials.

"We're providing technology that allows information to be provided within the content itself to enable new applications such as broadcast monitoring or copyright communications," said Reed Stager, vice president and general manager for media commerce at Digimarc.

"This expands us into new applications that we previously haven't addressed through audio-video watermarks," he said.