A small firm that manufactures high-tech media servers and other electronic gear is notifying online-entertainment companies that it owns the patent on multimedia syncing.
ReQuest, based in Ballston Spa, N.Y., has sent letters recently to an undisclosed number of companies, some of them involved in distributing digital media. The claims in the letter have raised eyebrows with some of recipients. One company that received a letter, which wished to remain anonymous, forwarded a copy to CNET.
In the letters distributed by ReQuest, the company's CEO Peter Cholnoky wrote that his company's patents (No. 7,577,757 and 7,136,934) cover "a system for synchronizing devices in a multimedia environmental" for photos, audio, and video media. The company calls this technology NetSync. In a press release issued by ReQuest in 2007, the company claimed the patents cover "automatically synchroniz(ing) entire media collections between different devices, whether in different rooms via the home's local network...or even on different continents over the Internet."
In the same press release, the company wrote: "The patent was filed on June 19th, 2001, which predates by several months Apple Computer's original introduction of its popular iPod."
Not everybody believes that ReQuest can defend such a patent. "It's preposterous," said the source who forwarded the letter to CNET. "Syncing is just about making copies and this has been a core function ever since the first computer rolled out."
The source also said the language in Cholnoky's letter made it obvious that ReQuest was making veiled threats about litigation. In the letter there is a mention of patent attorneys and an offer to license the company's technology.
In a phone interview today, Cholnoky told CNET he doesn't understand what the fuss is about. He noted that he took a very non-combative tone in his letter and never threatened litigation against any of the recipients. He declined to provide details about which companies received the letter or even to disclose how many he contacted.
Cholnoky wrote in the letter that his company has received offers to buy the patents from "law firms specializing in patent litigation." In the phone interview, he asked CNET, "What do you think they will do with them?"
"We just wanted to open up the patents to the market, especially as the patent market has heated up," Cholnoky said in the phone interview. "Google just offered to pay $900 million for (6,000 patents belonging to Nortel, the bankrupt Canadian telecom-equipment company). Nortel is auctioning them off. So, companies like Google are interested in acquiring patents and I sent the letters to people who might have some interest...we've received lots of calls."