Is a Patent for Sneezing the Next One?

This is as crazy as it possibly gets in the Patents and Intellectual Property world! First it was the suit against Blackberry and now this one by Netflix! They have patented a "method" by which subscribers can select the movies and second for a method for subscribers to keep the movies as long as they wish without extra charge.. hmm so what is so patent about this thought?? Is strategic intent to be patented? Any combination of different actions? Where do we go next from here? Patenting how we sneeze? Unless some commonsensical guy comes up with some commonsensical legislation – the business environment in the world is going to become impossible for innovations to prosper!

Online DVD rental company Netflix on Tuesday sued rival Blockbuster for patent infringement, asking a federal judge in Northern California to shut down Blockbuster’s 18-month-old online rental service and award Netflix damages, according to a copy of the filing.

Blockbuster declined to comment, saying it had not received a copy of the lawsuit.

Netflix, which was founded in 1999, holds two U.S. patents for its business methodology, which calls for subscribers to pay a monthly fee to select and rent DVDs from the company’s Web site and to maintain a list of titles telling Netflix in which order to ship the films, according to the patents, which were included as exhibits in the lawsuit.

The first patent, granted in 2003, covers the method by which Netflix customers select and receive a certain number of movies at a time, and return them for more titles.

The second patent, issued on Tuesday, "covers a method for subscription-based online rental that allows subscribers to keep the DVDs they rent for as long as they wish without incurring any late fees, to obtain new DVDs without incurring additional charges and to prioritize and reprioritize their own personal dynamic queue–of DVDs to be rented," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says No. 1 U.S. rental chain Blockbuster, which launched its online rental service in 2004, was aware that Netflix had obtained a patent for its business method and was seeking a second, but willfully and deliberately violated the existing patent.

Netflix, which is represented by the San Francisco law firm of Keker & Van Nest, is demanding a jury trial and asks that Blockbuster Online be enjoined from using Netflix’s business method and be forced to pay damages and court costs.

"We felt it necessary to take this action to protect our rights as inventors of the very unique business methods that Netflix offers," Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey said on Tuesday.

"Netflix created a very unique service, from the dynamic queue, to the idea of letting subscribers keep movies as long as they want with no late fees, to the idea of allowing customers to get new DVDs as soon as they return old ones," Swasey said.

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