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Want To Shake Down Cloud Music & Video Providers? Patent For Sale!

from the hop-to-it dept

When we talk about patent trolls, what many people don't recognize is how often many of these patents get passed around to and from different entities, often until someone sees an opportunity to force lots of companies into licenses, or to sue them. Failing that, many companies often feel compelled to buy ridiculously broad patents, just to keep themselves from being sued. Whole businesses have been built up around the practice of basically selling these patents, in which they more or less are selling people a right to shake down others. Except that kind of stuff rarely is talked about in the public. Michael Robertson, however, passed along an example of one that we thought might be worth exploring. An operation called Capital Legal Group is going around "shopping" an excessively broad "cloud storage patent" for sale, highlighting that it's already identified three infringers, with more expected soon.

I'm sure they reached out to Roberston, since he runs a cloud content service, though they certainly don't indicate if they think he's infringing directly. The full pitch is embedded below, but here are some highlights:
To date, we have identified three infringing systems. Claim charts are available upon execution of a confidentiality agreement. Because the market is growing, we anticipate more and more infringing systems to come on to the market regularly.
Translation: here's a chance to shake down lots of players, because it's a broad "cloud storage patent" that is going to cover all sorts of stuff that companies are going to be doing because it's basically describing how cloud services work. Of course, in a rational world, this would be evidence that the patent in question should never have been granted, as it was clearly a next obvious step in the advancement of the technology, rather than any sort of breakthrough that needed protection.
The patented technology is applicable to storing video, audio (e.g., music) and other digital objects in cloud storage. Thus, the patented technology is applicable to remote digital video recording (DVR) services and other such services wherein the user selects content (e.g., television show, radio shows, etc.) to record (at some point in the future) and the system records the selected content on a server which is accessible by the user, for example, via the Internet or a wireless network.

As indicated in the Wall Street Journal, "the global market for 'the cloud' is expected to soar in the next several years, but cloud computing isn't just for big businesses; consumers use it regularly too, for storage and productivity." As the need for audio and video storage increases, new players, such as Comcast, are now entering the market. Consequently, the offered portfolio provides a fantastic opportunity for significant revenue and/or increased market share to any buyer.
In other words, this patent is hella broad, and is going to cover something quite obvious (DVRs, but "on the internet"). That courts have started (finally) becoming suspect of patents that take something already known (a DVR) and just basically add "on the internet" to it, isn't mentioned in the sales pitch, of course. Later, the pitch document again highlights how ridiculously broad the patent is, by noting that it counts towards content accessed from any device, and this it's "critical to the future of audio and video distribution." This is, simply, nuts. What's described in the patent is no breakthrough or revolutionary step forward. It's just the basics for how a reasonable engineer would build such a service. Put 100 engineers in the room and ask them to build a remote DVR, and I bet most of them would "accidentally" infringe on this patent. That's not about copying the idea or "stealing" the idea. It's about a broad idea that is obvious, getting locked up in a patent so someone can cash in for not doing anything.

Oh yeah, did we mention the current patent holder isn't doing anything with it? Right:
The patents are not licensed and have never been litigated. The patents are not encumbered and the seller does not need a license back.
No license back means for all the talk of how critical and important this is, the "inventors" (and I use that word loosely) did absolutely nothing with it. And if it's never been licensed or litigated, that means there's no evidence that whatever's in the patent has ever even been seen by anyone doing work in this field, let alone used to further the market. Thus, the idea that these patents are "critical" to the market is flat out laughable.

The patent itself is 7,921,221, on a "Method and apparatus for obtaining digital objects in a communication network." Yeah, seriously. Surely something like that must have been filed back in the dark ages, right? Nope. 2008. Because back then, no one knew how to obtain digital objects in a communications network. This isn't innovation, this is a lottery ticket to shake down the companies who actually do innovate.

Filed Under: cloud, cloud music, cloud video, music, patents, video
Companies: capital legal group

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2012 @ 10:49pm

    Re: Re:

    What exactly is the claimed invention?

    The claimed invention, exactly, is what is described in the patent claims. You can go read them. It is limited by how the terms are defined in the body of the patent, and the prosecution history of the patent. I can summarize it for you, but that won't be the claimed invention exactly. That will be a summary with certain details left out that might or might not be important.

    If you willfully ignore the details, you can jump to all sorts of unsupportable conclusions about the breadth of the patent and what constitutes prior art.

    How is it different from prior art? What is novel about it?

    What prior art is that? You can't just say "prior art" in general. Identify some prior art that's close and then match up each and every element in the claims to elements in the prior art, and then you can answer this question. If you find that you can do this effectively, you have a good argument that this invention is indeed anticipated by prior art.

    Also, if you do that, you should feel free to file for ex parte reexamination of the patent. Did you know that anyone who raises a significant question of patentability can do that? It costs some money, a couple of thousand dollars, but if you're seriously cheesed off by a patent I'm sure you can get a kickstarter together with fellow patent-busters. (In fact, this might be an interesting business model - crowdfunded patent-busting.)

    What always amuses me here is that for the decade-plus of whining about the patent system, the Techdirt community has, to my knowledge, never once assembled the $2500 and detailed analysis to have a single patent invalidated through ex parte reexamination. Sure, invalidating a single patent would be a drop in the bucket, but I think it would make a statement if y'all went out and started actually working to fight bad patents instead of making unilateral declarations into the ether about how this patent is bogus or that patent is non-novel or whatever. Imagine if you (had) invalidated one of the Billion Dollar Apple Patents. You'd be Internet folk heroes.

    The stuff in this patent uses common techniques that came before it. Transferring and caching files is common techniques. Ever heard of design patterns? Software patents are stupid.

    Yes, but transferring and caching files are an almost incidental part of what's claimed.

    If you took ten minutes to read the first claim and a little of the description, you'd find out that the claimed invention is actually of the sort that Techdirtophiles would normally love. The basic idea behind the invention, as I read it, is a way to avoid copyright restrictions and still get free content over the Internet. A user would specify to a service that they want some particular content, say an MP3 of Toxic by Britney Spears, and then the service would monitor existing legal streams of information (e.g., Internet radio stations), then record the stream and send it to you later, or in real-time. (Actually building and using the invention may be limited by cases like the Cablevision case from a copyright perspective, limiting the practical utility of the invention).

    Note that my description of the invention there is not THE description of the invention. The invention is what is described in the claims. So, if you say "BUT THAT'S JUST LIKE WHATCHAHOOZIT.COM THAT CAME OUT IN 1998" that's wonderful, but you haven't invalidated the patent just yet. Build up a claim construction and a claim chart, and then you can have a reasonably-informed discussion.

    Yes, elements of the claimed invention certainly existed before. Patented inventions are often novel combinations of non-novel things. You single out software patents for derision here, but why not levy your criticism against all patents for the same reason? After all, any kind of physical (e.g., mechanical, civil, electrical, chemical) engineering is just applied physics, and physics is math, and math is natural laws, so therefore everything is just a law of nature and nothing is patentable, right?

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