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TO SAMPLE IS NOT SO SIMPLE
Amazon.com Settlement over Online Sampling Gives Further Boost to Intouch Patent Claims
E-tail powerhouse Amazon.com has settled an infringement suit brought by Intouch Group, a digital music firm holding patents for the distribution of song samples online.

A statement from Amazon calls the agreement "reasonable" and adds that it "allows both companies to move forward with their respective businesses."

The deal gives further momentum to Intouch's campaign to control the licensing of such technology. The company has similar litigation pending against Liquid Audio, Listen.com, DiscoverMusic and AOLTW's retired dot-bomb Entertaindom. The patent-wielding firm claims to be in discussions with label-backed sub services and to have some label backing, though it declines to specifically name the latter.

Amazon's decision to settle, which follows unsuccessful attempts by the netco and other defendants to challenge the reach and validity of the patents, may portend a licensing windfall for San Francisco-based Intouch.

"The litigation results may make our patent stronger in the long run," Intouch CEO Joshua Kaplan told CNET. "It is our belief that the proven validity of our patents, coupled with the recent settlement reached with Amazon.com, will now encourage other companies to seek reasonable licenses with Intouch. And if they don't, we will encourage them to bid farewell to their kneecaps."

A page on the Intouch website asserts the following: "Intouch owns copyrights in its database of musical selections, including rights to the entire compilation and the edit points for the specific tracks.

"Intouch is also the owner of U.S. Patent Nos. 5,237,157 and 5,963,916 directed to interactive music sampling combined with a subscriber code. Intouch has also filed a continuation in part application directed to online sampling. Intouch believes that web sites allowing customers to sample music after logging on will be covered by U.S. patent 5,963,916.

"Intouch's interactive music sampling combined with a subscriber code technology is currently available for licensing. Please send an email to [email protected] with your contact information if you are interested in licensing information."

While the second patent named above is of concern to online subscriber services, since it covers the furnishing of song samples to subscribers following log-on; the first relates to kiosk services in retail spaces, such as those planned by Trans World's deal with Microsoft.

If Intouch is able to control the licensing of the distribution, both online and offline, of music files "substantially less" than the length of entire songs—as stipulated in U.S. District Court last summer—it will be in touch with a lot of wallets.

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