German police raided 51 booths at the CeBIT computing show this week because of breaches of audio compression (MP3) patents. According to senior prosecutor Hans-Jurgen Lendeckel, several mobile phones, screens, sat navs and MP3 devices were seized.
Italian firm Sisvel, which itself has a booth at CeBIT in Hall 19, filed patent complaints in Hanover on behalf of big companies including Philips and France Telecom. The company says that through its agreements it can demand a licensing fee for consumer electronics devices sold in Europe.
Senior detective Oliver Stock led 180 police and customs officers during the biggest crackdown in the history of the annual fair. Companies from China, Taiwan, South Korea, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands were searched. Some of these companies were repeat offenders, according to Sisvel.
Sisvel has monitored CeBIT exhibitors for several years. In 2007 alone, 112 new license agreements were signed, including one with SanDisk and with the Chinese corporations Aigo and Huawei Technologies. Last year Microsoft acquired a patent license from Sisvel for parts of its Zune music player and Xbox 360.
In 2006 Sisvel took action against SanDisk at the IFA Expo in Berlin over the same issue, and last year Italian fiscal police seized SanDisk Mp3 players at an Italian outlet of French retailer Auchan. SanDisk insisted that it was not infringing any patents.
One company whose booth was shut down at CeBIT was Chinese manufacturer Meizu, which launched a "legitimate iPhone knockoff" called Mini One at CeBIT. However, it was its new portable Mp3 player that the police were after.
Although the MP3 format was developed by the Fraunhofer Institute in the late 80s, Philips holds patents for the use of 'padding bits' in a digital transmission system and for intensity stereo encoding and decoding.
Fraunhofer also launched a less aggressive licensing program together with Thomson of France. ®