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iPod accessory maker sues rival in patent spat

Digital Lifestyle Outfitters claims Belkin's FM transmitter and charger violates a DLO-held patent.

Digital Lifestyle Outfitters, a North Carolina firm that specializes in iPod accessories, said Thursday that it has filed a patent infringement suit against rival Belkin over that company's TuneBase FM product.

In its suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, DLO claims that the Belkin FM transmitter and charger product violates a patent held by DLO parent company Netalog. The suit seeks monetary damages as well as an injunction against Belkin.

Late Thursday, Belkin said it believes DLO's suit has "no merit" and that the company has filed a number of defenses to the lawsuit, which dates back to May 2005. Among its claims is that the DLO patent is invalid.

"Belkin is confident that a verdict wil be rendered in its favor with regard to this matter," general counsel Chris Flower said in a statement provided to CNET News.com.

The legal wrangling comes amid a booming market for iPod accessories, a business that has been estimated to be generating upward of $500 million in sales industrywide. Apple Computer itself has been looking to garner a bigger piece of the pie, this year introducing a "made for iPod" program in which the Mac maker gets a royalty from each participating accessory sold. The company has made the program mandatory for devices that connect electrically to the iPod via its dock connector.

"Netalog works hard every day to bring original new products to our customers and we take pride in our innovative creations," Netalog president Jeff Grady said in a statement. "We are equally committed to vigorously defending our intellectual property against any infringement and will do so whenever necessary."

In a statement on Thursday, DLO noted that it filed another suit in September 2004 alleging that Griffin Technology's RoadTrip product also violates the Netalog patent. The company said that discovery has been completed in that suit and that trial is slated for next year.

Griffin said that it does not believe that the DLO patent is valid, nor that its products infringe on the patent. "In 2004 we sued Netalog for a declaration to that effect; that their patent is invalid and not infringed upon," Griffin said in a statement. "We have filed motions asking that the case be dismissed on those grounds and that the court is currently considering those motions."

Griffin also said that "DLO filed the lawsuit against us during a period when DLO was secretly recruiting one of our senior managers, which is currently under separate litigation."