The online audio and entertainment Web site has received a potentially lucrative patent for its digital audio player technology, and the firm also announced a new agreement with Microsoft to provide an audiobooks channel on the site. provides free audiobook recordings, music and news over the Web. The company has received a patent that covers any type of portable device that can record and replay audio files downloaded from the Internet. Internet analysts have reported that as many as a million digital audio players will be sold during the next year. is likely to receive some kind of royalty for each unit sold.'s president, Nathan Schulhof, told PW that the company developed and marketed the Listen Up player, its first digital player, in 1994 and applied for the patent in 1995. "We pioneered the technology for these listening devices and we own the copyright. However, it is not our intention to stifle the marketplace. We simply expect a fair royalty." There are as many as 30 companies with such devices currently on the market or in development, and Schulhof acknowledged that it was "very likely" the patent would be challenged. The popular Rio Player produced by Diamond Multimedia is among the digital players on the market. Calls to the firm were not returned, but in published reports Diamond's general counsel has said the company is studying the matter.

The situation recalls a 1993 patent controversy over Compton New Media's patent for the multimedia CD-ROM. The patent was later rescinded after a storm of protest and challenges from the then-nascent CD-ROM industry.'s agreement to link with will build traffic by offering hundreds of free audiobook titles.