Microsoft has won a patent for a digital-watermarking technology that could be used to protect the rights of content owners even when digital music is distributed without DRM protection.
The technology, called "stealthy audio watermarking," inserts and detects watermarks in audio signals that can identify the content producer, "providing a signature that is embedded in the audio signal and cannot be removed," according to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trade Organisation (USPTO).
The application for U.S. patent 7,266,697 was filed May 3, 2004, by Darko Kirovski and Henrique Malvar, both of whom work at Microsoft Research. Malvar is a Microsoft distinguished engineer and managing director of Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, and Kirovski is a researcher there.
Microsoft currently has DRM (digital rights management) technology called Windows Media DRM that encrypts audio files and protects them from misuse or unauthorised redistribution. The company has traditionally been an outspoken proponent of using DRM to protect owners of digital content, though it said earlier this year it would consider selling DRM-free songs online after rival Apple struck a deal with EMI Group to do so.
Forensic digital watermarking technology, like the technology Microsoft has patented, doesn't encrypt files the way DRM technology does or prevent people from unauthorised use. However, it can be used to prove who owns the content of the digital file by encoding a file with a unique digital signature. That means illegally traded songs could be tracked back to the original purchaser, allowing authorities to identify illegal sharers and serving as a deterrent.
The technology could also be used to track files for royalty distribution.
GO TO: Microsoft's Patch Tuesday