Court Rejects Patent On 'Watch An Ad To Get Content'

from the bilski-ftw dept

Last fall we wrote about how a company named Ultramercial had sued Hulu, YouTube and WildTangent over patent 7,346,545 for requiring people to watch an ad before being able to access content. It resulted in an interesting discussion in our comments, where some patent system defenders insisted that the patent was perfectly legit. Unfortunately, the court disagrees with those folks. It has ruled that the patent is not valid (the ruling covers Hulu and WildTangent -- YouTube was dismissed from the case). Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the court chose to use the "machine or transformation test" for judging the patent. While some have read the Bilski ruling to "reject" the "machine or transformation" test, that's not quite true. It just said that's not the only test. The court in this case went through an explanation for why it felt this was still an appropriate test:
It is important to note, however, that even after the Supreme Court's decision in Bilski, the machine or transformation test appears to have a major screening function--albeit not perfect-- that separates unpatentable ideas from patentable ones. Indeed, four of the Justices, listed on Justice Stevens's concurring opinion, would have taken the machine or transformation test to its logical limit to hold that business methods are categorically unpatentable. Id. at 3257 (Stevens, J., concurring). Joining a concurring opinion, Justice Scalia, who signed on to parts of the plurality opinion as well, would not hold all business methods unpatentable, but would agree with Justice Breyer that "not [] many patentable processes lie beyond [the] reach [of the machine or transformation test]." Id. at 3258 (Breyer, J., concurring). In sum, at least five (and maybe all) Justices seem to agree that the machine or transformation test should retain much of its utility after the Supreme Court's decision in Bilski. Therefore, even though the machine or transformation is no longer the litmus test for patentability, the Court will use it here as a key indicator of patentability.
And, using that test, the court finds this particular invention not patentable subject matter. It also points out that the patent is really just covering an abstract idea (the reasoning used by the Supreme Court to reject the Bilski patent):
At the core of the '545 patent is the basic idea that one can use advertisement as an exchange or currency. An Internet user can pay for copyrighted media by sitting through a sponsored message instead of paying money to download the media. This core principle, similar to the core of the Bilski patent, is an abstract idea. Indeed, public television channels have used the same basic idea for years to provide free (or offset the cost of) media to their viewers. At its heart, therefore, the patent does no more than disclose an abstract idea.
I'm guessing this will likely be appealed, so it should be an interesting case to follow. You can read the full (quite clear) decision below:

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