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i-Technology Blog: Death-Knell For "Rich Media? Hardly!

"It's Just a Publicity Stunt" – Nexaweb Founder and RIA Pioneer Coach Wei

David Temkin
Founder and CTO, Laszlo Systems

"The first thing that came to mind when I heard about this patent was a controversial patent issued in 1993. That patent, issued to Compton's New Media, claimed to cover any kind of multimedia at all--and this was in 1993, after a quarter century of multimedia development.

When Compton's announced the patent, they claimed in public that the patent applied to all multimedia, and announced a plan where a software or media payment company wishing to make, say, a CD-ROM or on-line offering, could license the rights to do so from Compton's New Media.

This sounded nothing short of absurd to anyone who had been paying attention to the industry for more than a few years, and there was quite a furor over the patent. Soon afterward the PTO reexamined the patent, and invalidated all of its 41 claims. The patent office left the impression that they had only reviewed existing patents for prior art, not the extensive stream of product and prototypes that have emerged from academia and industry over the years.

Two aspects of the Balthaser affair seem to recall the Compton's patent. First, the Balthaser press release stakes out much more territory than the patent claims seem to indicate: While the press release states that any rich media application, in any format, is covered by the patent, the crux of the patent seems to describe a technique for creating a rich media application on-line, like a hosted IDE or on-line design tool. Secondly, I believe that there is a significant amount of relevant, unpatented, prior art. The attention that Balthaser is drawing to the patent with its bold press release increases the chance that this work will be found and brought to the attention of the PTO.

I'd expect this to sort itself out in due time. The sky is not falling. But if you're in the "rich media" business, be prepared to hear from a lot of Chicken Littles over the next few months."



Coach Wei
Founder and CTO, Nexaweb Technologies

"As someone who has been in the Rich Internet Application space and using AJAX for a long time, here are some of my thoughts on this patent.

Basically, this is a publicity stunt by the owner of the patent (Balthaser Online Inc). The patent does not cover Rich Internet Applications in general as people seem to think it does. This patent is very specific about “Rich media.” The amount of coverage the patent receives demonstrates not so much the merit of this patent itself as it illustrates the significant buzz around RIA.

The patent press release implies that it “covers” Flash, Java and AJAX in general, but this patent is about Rich-media creation/modification/deletion, but not the general “Rich Internet Application” itself. It is about “users to create or modify a rich media application over the internet.” It covers rich media hosting websites and content websites that such rich content is added, modified or deleted by individual users within their user accounts. Companies that made significant investment in rich media could fall into the claims. A lot of Flash based websites would fall into the claims of this patent too, as well as some of Flash-based applications.

However, the validity of this patent is questionable:

'Balthaser filed its patent application on Feb. 9, 2001. CNET News reported that two years before then, a company called Java Technologies had a product enabling people to create multimedia. This prior use of similar technology could make Balthaser's licensing effort difficult, CNET reported.'

That is a quote from an article published recently."


Jim Phelan
VP of Development, Stream57

"A cursory glance at the Balthaser.com website reveals nothing particularly rich: some generic Flash animations, a fairly annoying techno-track looping in the background, and a promise of a custom user-friendly site tailored to your individual requirements. In spite of the apparent disregard for compelling user experiences, Balthaser claims that it is the proponent of Rich Media, the innovation in web-based user interaction that has fueled the efforts of Microsoft, Adobe, Sun, and others for the past several years.

In an interview with InformationWeek, Neil Balthaser states:

“The broader claim is one that basically says that if you got a rich Internet application, it is covered by this patent.”

In spite of Neil Balthaser’s questionable grammatical skills, he may yet prove to be a force to be reckoned with: if the patent is upheld in the capacity expected, the ramifications would be monumental: licensing fees would be required from every software vendor and website operator who infringed upon the patent’s loose definition of the creation of rich media applications via the Internet.

Most know that “Rich Media” goes far beyond what’s covered in Balthaser’s patent (or in its website). MXDJ Editorial Board member Aral Balkan has started a Prior Art Discovery website, located at http://www.osflash.org/balthaser_patent_prior_art_discovery. Companies such as Microsoft and Adobe will undoubtedly fight the legitimacy of the patent if it is found to have relevance to their software. While one can commend Balthaser in his valiant effort, the fact remains that the definition of Rich Media is far too general to be protected by patent law."


NEXT PAGE: Read comment of Charles Fiesel, Roundarch

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
Website Builder 02/21/08 07:38:11 PM EST

What's the situation with this?

Tom Maszerowski 03/01/06 07:31:50 AM EST

Considering the mass of prior art, they're not likely to end the "web as we know it" anytime soon.

QuoteUnquote 03/01/06 07:27:36 AM EST

[from the Balthaser Online Inc press release]

'This new addition to our patent portfolio is a pioneering patent and provides significant licensing opportunities for both Balthaser and our licensees,' stated Neil Balthaser, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman.

'The patent covers all rich media technology implementations including Flash, Flex, Java, Ajax and XAML and all device footprints which access Rich-Media Internet Applications including desktops, mobile devices, set-top boxes and video game consoles. Balthaser will be able to provide licenses for almost any Rich-Media Internet Application across a broad range of devices and networks.'

Dave Williamson 03/01/06 06:51:27 AM EST

It would appear that some of the earliest flash and generator work myself and some of my colleges were involved in back in the earliest days of flash has broken one of the most ludicrous patent awards I have heard of.

Neil Balthaser has been awarded a Patent relating to the online production of RIAs using RIAs over a remote connection.

I find this incredible given the number of flash applications that were around at that time that must have existed to be listed as prior art that would have shown quite obviously that there was not a single original idea, process or product related to the Balthather FX/ProFX site.

In the UK there is the MoonFruit platform for a start that was live before the Pro FX site for a start (here's the link: http://www.moonfruit.com/), not least the fact that Macromedia's own Generator product offered exactly the engine of such automated production online.

So here for your delectation is 'Casper' an application born in 1998/1999 some time originally utilising flash 3/4 and generator and then more recently updated through flash 5 and Flash MX. (Here's the URL: http://casper.bittube.com/)

In the future I fully intend to bring the code base kicking and screaming into Flash AS2/3 and re-introduce the capabilities to 'export' or 'produce' rich media presentations from it.

For those of you who were also around producing this form of 'RIA' back in the day, I highly recommend you dig out and dust off your old FLAs and report those productions over at OSFlash.org as prior art.

Where this patent leaves future development of similar concepts in relation to Flex, server-based MTasc/swfMill AJAX or any other form and or mixture of technology(ies) you can think of remains to be seen.

Boy am I cross.

Mark Evans 03/01/06 06:20:50 AM EST

This either looks like another U.S. Patent & Trade Office fiasco and/or a company setting itself up to be acquired and put out of its misery.

In any event, it - and the patent battle between NTP and RIM - illustrates the USPTO should undergo an extensive review to assess whether the granting of patents is being done in a way that protects the rights of investors while still leaving enough flexibility to encourage innovation.

ClarificationPlease 03/01/06 06:04:46 AM EST

Is it true that the patent covers all rich media technology implementations including Flash, Flex, Java, Ajax and XAML?

pyrosx 02/28/06 08:54:12 AM EST

WTF! Hell of a job the US Patent Office is doing. Obviously they are somewhere near the lower end of the american literacy curve. I feel so embarrassed for the patent system right now.

I should patent 'A system of posting free speech online.' and collect royalties from all online publications.

pyrosx 02/28/06 08:54:10 AM EST

WTF! Hell of a job the US Patent Office is doing. Obviously they are somewhere near the lower end of the american literacy curve. I feel so embarrassed for the patent system right now.

I should patent 'A system of posting free speech online.' and collect royalties from all online publications.

queZZtion 02/28/06 08:49:35 AM EST

Is this the same Neil Balthaser that used to be a VP of strategy for Macromedia?

DL Byron 02/28/06 07:57:49 AM EST

Balthaser can yell bingo with the ruling and now will try to win the megalotto by hoping some company would rather license the patent then fight them.

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