Netflix Sues Blockbuster to Stop Online Renting

Online DVD rental company Netflix Inc. (NFLX) on Tuesday sued rival Blockbuster Inc. (BBI) for patent infringement, asking a federal judge in Northern California to shut down Blockbuster's 18-month-old online rental service and award Netflix damages, according to a copy of the filing.

Blockbuster declined to comment, saying it had not received a copy of the lawsuit.

Netflix holds two U.S. patents for its business methodology, which calls for subscribers to pay a monthly fee to select and rent DVDs from the company's Web site and to maintain a list of titles telling Netflix in which order to ship the films, according to the patents, which were included as exhibits in the lawsuit.

The first patent, granted in 2003, covers the method by which Netflix customers select and receive a certain number of movies at a time, and return them for more titles.

The second patent, issued on Tuesday, "covers a method for subscription-based online rental that allows subscribers to keep the DVDs they rent for as long as they wish without incurring any late fees, to obtain new DVDs without incurring additional charges and to prioritize and reprioritize their own personal dynamic queue — of DVDs to be rented," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says No. 1 U.S. rental chain Blockbuster, which launched its online rental service in 2004, was aware that Netflix had obtained a patent for its business method and was seeking a second, but willfully and deliberately violated the existing patent.

Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter, who also is an attorney, said it was unclear whether Netflix's challenge to Blockbuster's online service would be upheld by the federal court.

"It's my opinion that it won't be," Pachter said. "Blockbuster detrimentally relied on their silence as consent. If in fact (Netflix) feels so damaged they should have sought injunctive relief before Blockbuster rolled out its service."