Gracenote deal has Hoosier DNA

Sony Corp. of America’s $260 million acquisition of Emeryville, Calif.-based Gracenote Inc. this week may seem like a Pacific Rim deal. But it has some Hoosier DNA.

Indiana technology entrepreneur Scott Jones acquired Gracenote in 1998 and placed it under his Escient Technologies LLC umbrella of companies. Escient attempted to develop a series of consumer “convergence” electronics products to integrate the Internet into home theaters.

Back then, Gracenote was called CDDB, short for compact disc database. Its proprietary music recognition software allows consumer electronics devices to instantly identify and display which artist produced a CD, the album’s name and its individual song titles.

Escient produced a series of award-winning products and repeatedly raised tens of millions of dollars from local investors and, later, venture capital firms. But it never fully realized its original promise, and ended up a victim of the dot-com bust. By 2003, Jones sold off most of Escient’s divisions piecemeal.

But Jones remained Gracenote’s chairman, and the company found success licensing its software to other electronics firms. Today, Gracenote’s technology helps computers and hand-held devices recognize music. Apple’s iTunes and other media players use Gracenote’s online database when users copy CDs onto their computers.

It’s unclear how big a payday Jones is due, or whether any of Gracenote’s proceeds ultimately will help underwrite his latest high-tech venture, the human-assisted Internet search engine ChaCha.

Sony plans to operate the business separately and retain its senior management team.

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