AppleInsider has another apparent scoop. According to Kasper Jade, Apple and 4 other music download companies are being sued by Ho Keung Tse of Hong Kong for allegedly infringing US patent 6,665,797. The Abstract is on the continuation.
There are two possibly interesting facts about this patent. The first is that although the patent was filed in 1998, it is a continuation of an application filed on December 1, 1995. Depending on what's in the original application, that's a reasonably early filing date (the US is first to invent, not file).
The major negatives are that only 5 pieces of prior art apparently cited to the patent examiner, all patents. No non-patent prior art is listed in the published application. It will be interesting to see if this stands up to challenge in court. On the other hand, it may settle prior to trial simply because it's often less expensive that way.
6,665,797, "Protection of software again against unauthorized use."
A central program comprising a EI sub-program for providing identity information of the rightful user thereof for accessing a network central computer to obtain service(s) or software product(s) or alike, in which a secure operation on an account of the rightful user for payment therefor involved; and a AS sub-program for using the existence of the EI sub-program in a computer as a precondition for authorising use of those software products obtained on that computer. The central program is for managing the use of the individual sub-programs therein so that the AS sub-program can be protected from being copied individually.