Apple is known in the tech industry for being a bit of a patent bully, but it turns out what goes around really does come around. This week a number of infringement cases were filed in a Texas federal court which allege that iTunes, Safari, and even OSX infringe on a number of patents held by a company named Sharing Sound. The most interesting of the suits filed was against the iTunes store, which as far as we can tell, insinuates that Apple should not be allowed to sell music through the iTunes interface. The patent being contested would prevent Apple from using any type of online store environment which allows them to provide song previews, a shopping cart, or even an application to play any purchased content. The absence of these features would make iTunes decidedly less useful than it already is, so I imagine Apple is taking this one rather seriously.
Most people wouldn't recognize Sharing Sound on its own, but codefendants include Rhapsody, Napster, Brilliant Digital Entertainment, and Microsoft. Apple is the big player named in the suit, but similar actions were filed against Amazon, Netflix, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, and even GameStop. It is somewhat unclear why Sharing Sound would wait so long to test out the validity of its patent holding, but were pretty sure a lawyer was carefully consulted at each step. A verdict in their favor could radically alter the online music distribution landscape, but is also the key reason why it is likely to die off. The better question here is not if Sharing Sound will be able to lock out the big players in the online music industry, but rather why the patent office would grant such a broad and ridiculous patent at all.