June 4, 2004 11:47 AM PDT

Sony pays millions to inventor in Walkman dispute

The biography of Sony founder Akio Morita credits him with the concept of the portable music player, a device better known to Sony customers around the world as the Walkman.

But the Japanese consumer electronics giant has just paid several million euros to a German inventor who patented the idea in 1977.

After more than 20 years of court battles, 59-year-old Andreas Pavel agreed to a settlement that, in return for the payment, suspends all legal procedures he had set in motion against the company, according to German weekly Der Spiegel, which obtained confirmation from Sony's head office in Tokyo.

In 1977, Pavel, then living in Italy, registered for several patents relating to a portable stereo device named the Stereobelt (literally, the "belt stereo"). In 1979, Sony launched its famous Walkman, which went on to sell more than 200 million units in its first two years.

Pavel sought to take advantage of his patent rights in 1980, starting friendly negotiations with Sony for acceptable royalty payments through a licensing contract. In 1986, the manufacturer paid out royalties, but Sony always rejected Pavel's claim that he had invented the gadget. In 1989, Pavel turned to the British justice system to establish his ownership of the rights.

After more than seven years, Pavel's suit was dismissed, and he found himself near bankruptcy because the court costs--nearly 3 million euros ($3.68 million)--were charged to him.

Pavel threatened to continue his battle in other countries where he held a patent. In 2001, Sony changed its stance and agreed to start new negotiations with Pavel, which led to the settlement.

The contract signed by the two parties is confidential, but sources with knowledge of the deal said Sony agreed to pay Pavel several million euros. (A million euros equals $1.23 million.)

Pavel, extremely proud of his victory, said he now plans to approach other manufacturers of Walkman-like products, including Apple Computer. Apple's white-hot iPod is to some extent the digital successor of the Walkman.

Pavel also has more assets up his sleeve. In 1989, he filed a patent application in the United States for a technology combining the functions of a pocket audio player and a mobile phone. According to Der Spiegel, a decision on that application will be reached soon.

Estelle Dumout of ZDNet France reported from Paris.

5 comments

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Sony will continue to receive bad Karma !
eom
Posted by grey_eminence (153 comments )
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Andreas Pavel is Brazilian
This article fails to state that despite the fact that Andreas Pavel was born in Germany, with 6 years old he moved to Brazil and acquired the Brazilian citizenship. More details at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Pavel" target="_newWindow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Pavel</a>.

Dimitri Souza
Posted by dimitrisouza (4 comments )
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The rest of the story...
Astraltune is the original personal portable stereo sold in the US (1975). Morita purchased an Astraltune in Aspen, Co. in 1978. Prior art can void any patent claim.
Posted by mbehling (1 comment )
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This is true. I was in Steamboat Springs in 1976 and Astraltunes were so popular I couldn't get one. I later found one in Breckenridge. This was an answer to a skier's dream, being able to ski and listen to music. It was basically a tape deck in an insulated pack that strapped to your chest. The headphones were bright Orange, an old Sennheiser design that dropped under the neck rather than over the head. I was so excited about these things that I flew to Reno the next week and bought the rights to the East Coast by buying a few dozen sets. I approached all the stores in Manhattan with a friend of mine to try to get them to put them in their stores. I remember Bloomingdale's response - They're too impersonal. No one will walk around Manhattan with headphones on. Right.

I always got a kick out of the stories that came out of Sony about how THEY came up with the idea. They had to have seen these things. I don't know whatever happened to the Astraltunes boys, but they were certainly onto something.
Posted by bricajo (1 comment )
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The real inventor is Roy Bowers who was the founder of Astratune. I was involved with the first generation sales of a a Sanyo Under dash Cassette Stereo to Mr Bowers for his first generation product into the USA Market.
Mr Paul Lo and myself Manufactured the 2nd Generation of Astratune via YAMs Electronics for Roy, many years before Mr Pavel and or Mr Morita were even aware of this Worlds First Mobile Stereo for Sporting Enthusiast. Its sad that Roy wound up with nothing and the two other Pickpockets came out smelling the big bucks and fame.
Posted by garyweissberg (1 comment )
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