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Shock treatment

Technology | Immersion Corp. wins $90.7 million verdict against Sony

Issue: "Terri Schiavo: In memoriam," April 9, 2005

A federal district court last week ordered Sony to suspend sales of the Playstation line of video-game consoles due to a lawsuit filed by a little-known company that accuses Sony of patent infringement. The Tokyo-based conglomerate plans to keep selling the machines, however, as it fights the injunction that bars both manufacture and importation.

San Jose-based Immersion Corp. filed suit in 2002 and was awarded $90.7 million in damages last week, in addition to the suspension order. (A trial judge granted a stay on the sales ban.) The dispute involves what Sony calls the "Dual Shock" technology in its game controller, in which the unit shakes in the player's hand at particular points while playing.

Immersion, which boasts over 270 patents worldwide, specializes in touch technology used for video games, medical training, 3-D simulation, and other markets. It claims both the Dual Shock controllers and 47 different Sony games violated its intellectual property rights.

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Immersion also sued Microsoft, maker of the Xbox console, over similar issues and settled in 2003. The software giant paid $26 million, including $6 million to purchase about 10 percent of the company.

Search warrant?

Google faces a copyright lawsuit that could lead to legal limits on the power of search engines. The French news wire Agence France-Presse (AFP) claims that the Google News site lifted its headlines, photos, and news summaries without permission-and seeks at least $17.5 million in damages.

Google News is "edited" by computers that scan over 4,500 news sites, then collate headlines, a few sentences of text, and thumbnail pictures into menus of stories that link to the original publications. While AFP blocks search engines from its main site, websites that subscribe to the wire may wind up in the index.

Many news outlets like to have their stories indexed because it directs web surfers to their sites. Those who want to be left out can ask to be excluded, but AFP is an unusual case because it sells news to other parties, including about 600 websites.

The case boils down to consumer convenience versus a publisher's right to control its content. It could affect all sorts of sites that use bits and pieces of news stories, such as those run by bloggers, activists, media watchdogs, and the like.

The Associated Press, the dominant U.S.-based wire service, is not part of the suit, but issued a statement in support of AFP's case. Yahoo, which operates a news index run by human editors, pays to carry both the AP and AFP wires, along with other news feeds.

Bits & Megabytes

· Peer-to-peer file sharing lost popularity in the United States, according to a Pew survey, which concluded that music fans are looking for alternatives. The number of people sharing files stayed the same-at about 24 percent-but the number of downloaders dropped from 31 percent in February, 2004, to 21 percent earlier this year. Meanwhile, the number using legal paid services jumped from 17 percent to 34 percent.

· The European Union is getting a new internet domain suffix, and new addresses ending in ".eu" may start appearing next year. The new tag, known as a top-level domain (or TLD), will coexist with national suffixes like ".uk," ".fr," and ".de," and the U.S. trio of ".com," ".net," and ".edu." The European Commission selected a nonprofit group called EURid to govern ".eu," and PricewaterhouseCoopers will help validate trademark claims for new domains.

· Vonage, America's largest internet phone company, faces a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who claims the provider does not clearly warn customers that they cannot automatically dial 911 after they sign up. It follows a February incident in which a Houston teenager could not reach 911 using the family's Vonage-connected phone during a home invasion in which her parents were shot and wounded. The suit seeks $20,000 per violation; Vonage says it notifies customers that they must sign up for 911 separately.

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