'Inventor of Walkman' wins millions from Sony dispute over

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The Independent Online

The German inventor who pioneered the technology behind the Sony Walkman has won a multimillion-pound payout nearly 30 years after dreaming up his invention.

The German inventor who pioneered the technology behind the Sony Walkman has won a multimillion-pound payout nearly 30 years after dreaming up his invention.

Andreas Pavel's original 1970s concept of the "stereobelt" revolutionised portable listening and Sony's version - the Walkman - became a global hit.

Now the 57-year-old stereo enthusiast, who works in Milan, is threatening to use his payout to sue Apple Computer, whose iPod portable music player is the digital successor to the Walkman. He is believed to be considering cases in Italy and Canada, where his patents were filed later and may still be valid.

It is understood that Mr Pavel has been offered several million euros to settle outstanding disputes with Sony over licence fees that he claims to be owed on the Walkman, even though his European claim to authorship of the idea was rejected by the Court of Appeal in Britain in 1996.

Sony said the 25-year-long dispute was settled "in friendly agreement" with Mr Pavel, who applied for a patent in 1977 for a "portable small component for the hi-fidelity reproduction of recorded sound". He called it a "stereophonic production system for personal wear" - shortened to "stereobelt", and filed a patent in Britain in March 1978.

Though he produced prototypes, none reached the market. Two years later Sony began marketing the Walkman, and has since sold more than 200 million players.

The move by Sony, which does not reverse the court decisions, follows the death in 1999 of the company's co-founder, Akio Morita, who was often cited as a driving force behind the original Walkman. The settlement brings to an end a dispute which has run since Mr Pavel used legal aid to bring court cases against Sony in the UK in 1993 and 1996.

He lost both cases when judges ruled his patent was invalid because it was an obvious extension of the technologies existing at the time it was filed.

The US Patent Office refused his patent application, so he was never able to sue Sony there.

However, Sony paid Mr Pavel a licence fee of DM150,000 in the 1980s for the original Walkmans sold in Germany. They had two earphone plugs and a "hotline" button for reducing the volume - both details included in Mr Pavel's original patent application drawings.

If Mr Pavel sues Apple over the iPod, it is unclear whether his patent is still valid: normally patents are valid for 20 years from the date of application. Apple did not introduce the iPod, which stores music on a tiny hard disk, until October 2001. The first version of Mr Pavel's patent was published in Italy in 1978.

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