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SanDisk MP3 seizure order overturned

Ongoing patent infringement suit had barred SanDisk from showing its MP3 players until trade show's last day.

A seizure order that would have barred SanDisk from showing its MP3 devices at a German trade show was overturned this week, allowing the company to display its digital audio players after all.

A German prosecutor issued the seizure order for the MP3 players on Friday, Sept. 1. The Societa Italiana per lo Sviluppo dell'Elettronica (Sisvel), which licenses patents for the popular compression technology, says the players use MP3 technology that the company has not properly licensed.

The order allowed local officials to remove the devices from SanDisk's booth at IFA, a consumer electronics trade show held from Sept. 1-6 in Berlin.

SanDisk was one of 19 companies whose products were seized at IFA for similar patent violations. It's unclear whether other companies challenged the seizure order.

But by Wednesday, attorneys for SanDisk had the order overturned, and the company's digital audio players were permitted to be displayed on the last day of the show, said company spokesman Bob Goligoski. SanDisk maintains that its MP3 players do not infringe on any patents.

Sisvel continues to pursue the matter, and has appealed the decision to overturn the seizure order, company spokesman Alberto Leproni said in an e-mail on Thursday.

The Italian patent management firm is also suing the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom and two U.S. states with the same complaint. Sisvel says that if the devices can play MP3 files, then by definition SanDisk must pay a license fee to use the technology, developed and owned by France Telecom and Philips. More than 600 companies pay a licensing fee to Sisvel, including Apple Computer, Sony and Toshiba.

"Everybody else who is somebody in the consumer electronic industry has taken a license under these patents," Leproni pointed out.

In a statement, SanDisk said its MP3 players "operate a technology which is completely different from certain audio data transmission and reception techniques that has been patented for Philips and others many years ago."

Without offering a name, the SanDisk statement says "one of the founders of MP3 digital audio compression" affirms the company's position.

SanDisk recently announced an 8GB flash-based MP3 player priced to compete with Apple's 4GB iPod Nano.