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Napster has a new nemesis. This time around, the online music service is battling a single inventor rather than the entire recording industry. SightSound Technologies Inc., whose founder holds a series of patents for transmitting digital video and audio signals, has sued Napster for infringement. Napster says the patents are invalid based on prior art and has requested that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office re-examine them. Last month a federal judge in Pennsylvania denied SightSound’s request for a preliminary injunction and stayed its lawsuit pending action by the PTO. SightSound is appealing the ruling. Napster attorney Charles Verhoeven said the case has implications for other online subscription services, including Apple’s iTunes, Microsoft’s MSN Music and RealNetworks’s RealRhapsody. “We’re the second target in a larger plan by them to try to obtain licenses from the entire industry,” said Verhoeven, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges. “They contend the patents are broad enough to cover any downloading of a musical track for money.” SightSound attorney William Wells, a partner at Kenyon & Kenyon’s New York office, said he couldn’t discuss the breadth of the patent claims or whether other companies might be infringing the technology. “If others are infringing, once SightSound makes that determination, it will decide what to do,” Wells said. Based in Mount Lebanon, Pa., SightSound previously sued N2K Inc. and Bertelsmann AG subsidiary CDNow Inc. for infringement. Last year N2K and CDNow settled the case for $3.3 million, acknowledging in the settlement that the patents are valid and enforceable. The current suit is targeting the “Napster To Go” service, which allows consumers to download an unlimited number of music tracks onto an MP3 player for $14.95 a month. Napster originally allowed consumers to freely swap music files over the Internet. The Recording Industry Association of America won its copyright infringement suit against the company and shut down its service. Roxio Inc. subsequently bought Napster’s name and technology assets out of bankruptcy.

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