Online music store CDNOW Tuesday announced that it has received a patent
on its process of creating custom CDs on the World Wide Web.
If it holds
up, the patent could give CDNOW (CDNW) a powerful, if temporary, lever over the
market for digitally distributed music, which is being pioneered by
companies like Musicmaker.com and MP3.com (MPPP).
CDNOW’s US patent No. 5,930,768, “Method and System for Remote User
Controlled Manufacturing,” covers the process of using the Internet to
remotely select songs from a database, burn them to a compact disc or other
playback media, and ship them to the customer.
According to Ted Hooban, CDNOW’s director of digital products, the firm is
not out to use the patent as an offensive weapon.
“It’s not our intent to do anything destructive to other companies or to
force them out of the business altogether. If they are utilizing our
process, we will make our best effort to come to reasonable licensing
terms,” said Hooban, who was formerly the president of SuperSonic Boom, a
company that CDNOW acquired in June 1998.
While with Supersonic, Hooban
negotiated an exclusive license to a related patent owned by a company
called Ergon Technology Associates. That patent, No. 5,592,511, covers a
system for creating user-selected recordings at record stores.
Armed with control of these two key patents, CDNOW will be in a strong
position to negotiate licensing fees from competitors, according to Mark
Lemley, an Internet patent expert at law school of the University of
Such fees are usually based on a prediction of the revenue value of
the product they cover, according to Lemley. But in an emerging market like
custom CDs, that figure will be difficult to determine, which could mean
that big disagreements could lie ahead.
“My guess is that CDNOW and its licensees are going to have significant
disputes and very different ideas about what this patent is worth,” said
While many analysts believe that consumers will increasingly download music
directly to their computers or mobile playback devices, custom CDs are seen
as a intermediate solution until broadband connections to the
Internet become more pervasive.
CDNOW currently has meager customized CD offerings at its site, and instead
does most of its business selling CDs printed by major recording companies.
But Hooban said the company expects to accelerate the roll-out of those
offerings through partnerships.
Although its patent no. 5,930,768 was granted by the US Patent and
Trademark Office on July 27, 1999, CDNOW’s timed its announcement to
coincide with the Webnoize 99 new music conference which opened Monday in