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IFA 2006: SanDisk Busted Over Players At IFA

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If you work at SanDisk then you’ll have been a pretty happy bunny over the last 12 months. Not only are you the only flash memory maker with patents to produce every single format, you also currently have the best flash based MP3 player on the market in the shape of the e200 series. So, inevitably, a spanner was due to be thrown in the works.

It duly arrived during my second visit to the SanDisk stand (the company was kindly putting me up on Saturday night) and I was just in time to see Sansa players carted away and every reference to their existence removed. Check out the vacant player pedestals and partially erased the logo (top right) in this sneeky shot I grabbed.

After some digging – away from the tight lipped employees – it emerged that German customs had turned up and confiscated all the players. The reason: a patent dispute with Sisvel, an Italian company who owns the rather profitable licences to Mpeg1 and Mpeg2 compression technology.

Sisvel and SanDisk have long been at loggerheads since the latter refuses to licence its technology but the straw which finally broke the camel’s back came when SanDisk unveiled the new C200 series (which I had luckily covered the day before) at IFA. It turns out that Sisvel has obtained an injunction against SanDisk performing any such action at a European show so the trap was set.

With the likes of Apple, Creative and well… 600 other companies backing down to Sisvel and licensing the technology SanDisk may have rather a fight on its hands. Licensing Mpeg1 and Mpeg2 technology doesn’t come cheap and while SanDisk doesn’t do it that gives it a significant advantage in the marketplace.

Personally, despite all the brouhaha, this is unlikely to be particularly damaging to the current flash golden boy. For a start, licence or no licence, SanDisk can already undercut most manufacturers because it makes its own memory and secondly it provides a mountain of free publicity to a company which is desperately trying to create public awareness of its diversifying brand. It was pretty exciting to watch though!

Update:
SanDisk has had Sisvel's suit thrown out meaning it can once again show off its players. "{SanDisk} operate a technology which is completely different from certain audio data transmission and reception techniques that has been patented for Philips and others many years ago," said the company in a statement.

It remains unclear whether this will have a knock on effect for other manufacturers.

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