Unicast Enforces Patents, Aims to Foster Rich Media Standards

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While rich media advertising firm Unicast was rolling out its next generation Superstitial 300 ad format this week, it also was quietly letting other rich media advertisers know that it was prepared to enforce its patents on the ad unit.

Unicast said it sent cease and desist letters to four ad firms -- Enliven, VIPcast, Bluestreak and eyeblaster -- all of whom have technologies similar to Unicast's that enable them to serve interstitial ads to Web sites. An interstitial, according to industry trade group Interactive Advertising Bureau's Glossary of Interactive Advertising Terms, is an "ad that appears between two content pages." Unicast's Superstitial is essentially an interstitial ad.

Unicast was granted two U.S. patents for its online ad delivery technology in December 2001. One covers the company's "Dynamic Tag Generation" technology, involving its method of serving ads through dynamically written code that automatically downloads and plays the ad content. The other patent covers its method of "Polite Ad Delivery" and involves Unicast's method of rendering and executing an ad when a user takes some action to request a new page within a Web site.

Of the four companies, only Enliven would acknowledge receiving a letter from Unicast. However, Enliven CEO Scott Kliger insists it was not a cease and desist letter, but rather a letter informing the company that Unicast has patents on the technology.

"We received a letter," he said. "But we consider it a formal notice that they [Unicast] received several patents. It was an informational letter."

Unicast sees it differently. The letter was a cease and desist notice, said Allie Shaw, vice president of worldwide marketing.

"We sent cease and desist letters to four companies," Shaw said. "Enliven took their product off the market as a result."

That was news to Kliger, who said his company has not stopped making its Enliven Interstitial ad unit available. He said that Enliven altered the marketing language about the product that it features on its Web site. Someone in the marketing department got overzealous about the product and the language was toned down, he said.

"We haven't changed or altered our product at all," Kliger said. "Enliven in no way violates any of their [Unicast's] patents in anything that it does."

Bill McCloskey, CEO of rich media trade group Emerging Interest LLC, said Unicast is taking an unusual route by not licensing its technology.

"Sending out cease and desist letters is standard procedure when you get a patent," he said. "The reasoning is not to sue them or put them out of business, but you usually want to get them to license the technology. It's really a ploy to get a licensing fee."

Unicast claims that it is not interested in licensing its technology to others and that by enforcing its patents, it hopes to foster a rich media standard for the online advertising industry.

"In the category of online advertising, we are not looking to license our formats," Shaw said. "We fully anticipate our patents will lead to a much leaner format."

However, what Unicast considers a standard is not what the Interactive Advertising Bureau considers a standard. The IAB's rich media standard specifies 100 kilobytes as the maximum file size for interstitial ads. Unicast's original Superstitial, now dubbed Superstitial 100, is a 100k ad. Its new Superstitial 300, however, is a 300k ad.

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