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April 7, 2006
Startups Do Sue Big Players
Interesting to think about this suit in light of the Graham essay: Netflix and Blockbuster Online. Although the company has been around for years (since 1997 according to its site), Netflix is still by far junior to the long-established video chain. In the online business Netflix has something like a 3:1 subscriber advantage over Blockbuster's relatively new service.
So how do we read this suit? Graham would appear to side with Blockbuster, which claims the suit is not about intellectual property but instead about market competition and Netflix feeling the heat. I tend to think that's right, though it's bigger than that. Netflix has to realize that if Blockbuster Online looks to go into the black (predicted for next year) then it's going to be open season and everyone with an inventory of disks and a big name (like, say, the studio chains) will want to get into this business. Patents or no, that's going to cut severely into Netflix's profit margins. On the other hand, if they succesfully shoot the first trespasser the others will think twice before getting into the business.
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