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Broad patents on streaming media upheld

A California court finds that a little-known company may have a legitimate stake in just about every kind of streaming media, from Internet multimedia to in-demand cable.

California-based holding company Acacia Research said Wednesday that it won a preliminary court ruling in favor of broad patent claims covering virtually all streaming media transmissions.

The company has won a preliminary injunction against five adult entertainment Web sites, barring them from using on-demand digital video or audio online, or providing advertising links to any other such sites. The ruling was a default decision, after the five companies declined to respond to a lawsuit, but does mark the first court validation of sweeping patent claims that could ultimately encompass virtually every site offering online multimedia content.

Acacia owns patents on the process of transmitting compressed audio or video, which is one of the most fundamental multimedia technologies used on the Internet.

"We will not allow for the unauthorized use of our technology," said Rob Berman, Acacia's general counsel. "Although not our preference, we are willing to use the power of the courts where necessary to stop unauthorized use."

Acacia edged slowly into the Internet scene last year, when it began seeking patent licensing revenue from a long list of adult entertainment companies. Its claims initially raised few eyebrows beyond the panicked adult-media businesses, but it became clear that Acacia's targets ultimately included the biggest Internet multimedia companies, cable giants, and Fortune 500 companies.

The company's claims are based on a series of patents it contends cover virtually all types of on-demand transmission of compressed audio or video, whether online, over ordinary cable-TV cables, or through other means.

The first mainstream company to license Acacia's technology was Radio Free Virgin, a popular Internet radio site and division of the Virgin media conglomerate. That company said it often received frivolous patent claims but that Acacia's appeared to be valid.

The company has filed infringement lawsuits against a total of 19 adult entertainment companies, and plans more if other companies do not sign licensing agreements, Berman said. A total of 27 companies have signed licenses so far, including Virgin; LodgeNet, a hotel in-room entertainment company; and a host of smaller companies.

Berman said that Acacia is now in negotiations with large cable TV companies and several Fortune 500 companies as well. A spokesman for cable giant Comcast confirmed that Acacia had contacted the company, but he declined to go into details.

The suits that resulted in the injunctions against the five small adult-media companies were filed in the Central District of California.