I haven't done a quantitative study, but I've had the impression over the past several months that patents dealing with rights management have been issued at a slower rate than in the past while at the same time there seems to be more patents dealing with watermarking issuing. It may be that those with fundamental patent portfolios relating to rights management such as Intertrust, ContentGuard, and perhaps Macrovision and increasingly Microsoft have pretty much exhausted the most fertile areas and that subsequent inventions will of necessity be much narrower in scope.
A few years ago, a well-respected senior computer scientist opined that the most important work in watermarking had not yet been done. Contrasted with rights management, it may be the case that researchers are finding watermarking a more fruitful area for innovation and patenting.
The US Patent Office issues new patents on Tuesdays. Issued patents and published applications may be early indicators of the kinds of issues being addressed by inventors and/or the companies for whom they work. Assigned to Kaleidescape, Inc., the first patent addresses watermarking and fingerprinting digital content using alternative blocks to embed information. Assigned to Musicrypt, the first of today's patents entails a biometric rights management system.
7,003,131, "Watermarking and fingerprinting digital content using alternative blocks to embed information," assigned to Kaleidescape, Inc.
A method of embedding information in digital content representing media streams. The method includes (1) selecting a set of locations within that digital content reprensenting the media stream to embed information, (2) selecting a set of possible alterations to make at those locations, and (3) making a subset of the possible alterations. The set of locations and possible alterations is herein sometimes called a "watermark." The subset of actual alterations that are made is herein sometimes called a "fingerprint." The method determines a set of locations at which there are alternative versions of digital content representing the same media stream, such as one being the original and one being an alternative version of the same digital content, herein sometimes called the "original movie" and the "alt-movie," or herein sometimes called the "original block" and the "alt-block" for a particular block in the digital content representing the media stream.
7,003,670, "Biometric rights management system," assigned to Musicrypt.
An apparatus and method for using biometric information to control access to digital media that is obtained over a network such as the Internet. Encryption, techniques are used in combination with biometric verification technology to control and monitor access to online or locally held media. Biometrics such as keystroke dynamics are measured at a user's computer to confirm the identity of a user for the purpose of allowing the user to audit music files to which the user has authorized access.