Today, while driving my 15 year-old home from a doctor's appointment, I asked him what he thought should happen when you stick a DVD into a computer. "That's obvious Dad. It should give me the option to play it" he said. It's obvious to me to and millions of other people who are probably used to seeing the same thing happen when they put a CD into their computers or attach a digital camera to their USB port. But today, in asserting that it has a legitimate patent on the idea of autoplaying a DVD when someone sticks in a computer, Intervideo sued Dell for patent infringement. According to the report filed by News.com's Michael Singer:
InterVideo, located in Fremont, Calif., is asking the court to enjoin Dell from manufacturing, selling or importing products that infringe patents tied to its Linux-based InstantOn technology. The software allows a DVD to automatically start playing a movie when a user inserts a disc into a computer running an InterVideo program. The suit concerns U.S. Patent No. 6,765,788.
My initial reaction was that it must be a mistake or there must be a bug in Dell's systems. Surely, Dell meant to activate the flushing mechanism in the nearest toilet via Wi-Fi. (Note that I categorized this blog post under Wired & Wireless.)
In an exchange of e-mails with Intervideo's public relations counsel Andy Marken, I was told that Intervideo has a patent on the autoplay technology as well as a codec (compressor/decompressor -- commonly used for storing video). But Marken confirmed that the infringement suit has nothing to do with the codec. Although the anti-patent community will surely lash me with a wet noodle, I can accept that there's a patent on something as complicated as a codec. A lot of work, research, and development goes into one of those. But into an autoplay technology? Puh-leeze. I'm sure there was work involved. But I'm not willing to accept an any claim that it was non-trivial when compared to something like a codec (not to mention that any 15-year-old will tell you that a DVD should autoplay when it's stuck into a computer). Marken hasn't gotten back to me on that.
When I told my 15-year-old what was going on and how Intervideo probably wants Dell to pay it royalties for every computer it sells that can autoplay a DVD, he said with perfect 15-year-old indignance, "That's dumb. Every computer does that. What do they think? They can get money from all of them for something so simple?" Answer: Yes.
Unfortuantely, a precedent could mean that Dell is on shakey ground. Intervideo apparently sued Acer for the same thing and, according to a Reuters story, the case was settled to Intervideo's satisfaction. On the other had, Acer isn't an American company. Dell is and it's the world's top computer maker (based on marketshare data). Although Dell refuses to comment on litigation, my hope is that Dell doesn't lay down and die on this one. Sooner or later, the line has to be drawn on completely frivolous patents and my sense is that this is one of them. Either that, or the world is going to become a very boring place (see attempted satire).