I'm sure you all remember when Apple got sued for iTunes violating a patent. They've finally settled out of court and it looks like Apple ended up with the patent:
Michael Starkweather is now commenting on the impact of Apple's decision that affects "The future of the whole cell phone, iPod and PDA industry. That's the billion dollar patent." Starkweather believes that this patent has just overcome its first major legal victory. "I believe that, with this patent in hand, Apple will eventually be after every phone company, film maker, computer maker and video producer to pay royalties on every download of not just music but also movies and videos."
So what does the patent do that makes it so valuable?
Starkweather wrote the patent in 1996 for a Vermont inventor who originally didn't show interest in patenting the idea or understand its value. The concept consisted of a desktop computer holding multiple songs with an interface allowing a hotel guest to select three songs and play them on an electric grand piano. Starkweather saw the broader value and broke the patent into three elements; remote music storage, selection of music to download and playing music on a music device. Starkweather realized that downloading movies was an obvious variation to downloading music. It was data manipulated in the same way. "Sometimes it's easy to break an invention down to its key components," Starkweather says. "That's why patent writing is an art, not a science, and requires creativity."
Basically Apple could sue any company that sells music (and possibly video) online. Of course even if they do end up getting royalties from everyone it won't make a huge difference when they have about a 90% market share.