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Basic Instincts: Copying What Works vs. Protecting Your Turf

If you couldn’t get enough of the recent patent-infringement thriller RIM vs. NPT, you’ll definitely want to follow the latest nail-biter: Netflix vs. Blockbuster. Netflix is suing Blockbuster for violating its patents regarding mail-order DVD rentals.

According to the L.A. Times, Netflix holds two patents that cover, among other things, how it allows customers to keep DVDs as long as they want with no additional fees and how customers manage a list of DVDs to request. Blockbuster.com offers a strikingly similar service.

It’ll be interesting to see if the federal judge in California upholds those patents and how much wiggle room he or she allows a competitor. Even if Blockbuster prevails and preserves its online service, though, the suit will remind consumers that Netflix created the model in the late 1990s and Blockbuster, the industry giant, launched its version in 2004. That doesn’t sound good for Blockbuster’s brand. How much do consumers care who’s first and who follows? And for how long? At some point, after all, they simply forget.

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