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Company claims patent win in online rich media

Balthaser is awarded a patent that it says covers the design and creation of rich-media applications on the Net.

Internet design company Balthaser announced Tuesday that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted it a patent for the design and creation of rich-media services over the Internet.

According to information on the Patent Office's Web site, this patent covers "methods, systems and processes for the design and creation of rich-media applications via the Internet."

According to a summary of the patent, "the present invention relates to the method of providing users with the ability to create rich-media applications via the Internet."

Balthaser apparently intends to license the patent to companies that deliver rich-media services over the Web using technologies such as Adobe Systems' Flash, AJAX and Java.

"This new addition to our patent portfolio is a pioneering patent and provides significant licensing opportunities for both Balthaser and our licensees," Neil Balthaser, chief executive officer of the company, said in a statement.

"The patent covers all rich-media technology implementations including Flash, Flex, Java, AJAX and XAML and all device footprints which access rich-media Internet applications including desktops, mobile devices, set-top boxes and video game consoles," Balthaser added. "Balthaser will be able to provide licenses for almost any rich-media Internet application across a broad range of devices and networks."

Adobe, one of the market leaders in the rich-media space, is expected to respond to Balthaser's patent award on Thursday.

It's possible that Balthaser may struggle to enforce its patent, because of prior art--the process where a patent is invalid if it can be proven that the innovation in question already existed before the patent was filed.

Balthaser filed its patent application on Feb. 9, 2001. But back in 1999, a company called Javu Technologies launched a product called VideoFarm that allowed PC users to create and manage multimedia content over the Internet.

Bola Rotibi, a senior analyst at Ovum, suggested that the award of the patent to Balthaser should focus attention on the issue of software patents.

"Balthaser's patent awards, and its consequences for leading players, demonstrates both the good and bad of software patents," Rotibi said.

"Players such as Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Yahoo, to name but a few, are making significant investments in rich Internet and interactive technology," Rotibi added. "Many are placing bets that this technology, in conjunction with handheld device proliferation and embedded technology, is the gateway to a market that sees a convergence between consumer, workplace and appliance interactions. This is a defining market--not unlike the effect the PC had for Microsoft--and the bedrock of future software applications."

Graeme Wearden and Rupert Goodwins of ZDNet UK reported from London.