Patent Troll Says It Owns Podcasting; Sues Adam Carolla, HowStuffWorks

from the this-dept.-line-is-patented dept

We've written a few times about a patent trolling operation called Personal Audio. Like so many patent trolling companies, who's actually behind it is something of a mystery, but it does have an empty office in East Texas that no one ever goes to. It sued Apple and others claiming that it held patents on the concept of "playlists" and actually scored some victories. Amazingly, it sued Apple multiple times over the same patent, arguing that small changes to its products were new violations.

Well, the company is back with a "new" patent, 8,112,504, called a "System for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence" and appears to be claiming that podcasting itself violates the patent -- and has sued three podcasters, including Adam Carolla's "ACE Broadcasting," HowStuffWorks and Togi Entertainment. Personal Audio focuses on claim 31 of the patent, which you can read here:

31. Apparatus for disseminating a series of episodes represented by media files via the Internet as said episodes become available, said apparatus comprising:

one or more data storage servers,

one or more communication interfaces connected to the Internet for receiving requests received from remotely located client devices, and for responding to each given one of said requests by downloading a data file identified by a URL specified by said given one of said requests to the requesting client device,

one or more processors coupled to said one or more data storage servers and to said one or more communications interfaces for:
storing one or more media files representing each episode as said one or more media files become available, each of said one or more media files being stored at a storage location specified by a unique episode URL;
from time to time, as new episodes represented in said series of episodes become available, storing an updated version of a compilation file in one of said one or more data storage servers at a storage location identified by a predetermined URL, said updated version of said compilation file containing attribute data describing currently available episodes in said series of episodes, said attribute data for each given one of said currently available episodes including displayable text describing said given one of said currently available episodes and one or more episode URLs specifying the storage locations of one or more corresponding media files representing said given one of said episodes; and
employing one of said one or more communication interfaces to:
(a) receive a request from a requesting client device for the updated version of said compilation file located at said predetermined URL;
(b) download said updated version of said compilation file to said requesting client device; and
(c) thereafter receive and respond to a request from said requesting client device for one or more media files identified by one or more corresponding episode URLs included in the attribute data contained in said updated version of said compilation files.
Now, let's be clear. This patent was applied for on March 4, 2009 and granted on February 7, 2012. Isn't it great that the "new" USPTO is now rushing through patent approvals, so examiners like Carl Colin could claim that this patent was both "new" and "non-obvious" to those skilled in the art, when podcasting itself has been around since at least 2004. Hell, why not look it up on, oh, HowStuffWorks -- one of the companies being sued for "violating" this patent that wasn't applied for until 2009? Incredibly, Adam Carolla's podcast started on February 23, 2009... or exactly two weeks before this patent was applied for. Update: As pointed out in the comments, this is actually a "child" patent of an earlier application, so they can argue a priority date from back in 1996. In other words, this is really a submarine patent (which were supposed to have been outlawed).

Of course, with so many podcasters out there, Personal Audio is not just focused on the three companies it's sued. The EFF notes that the company has sent out licensing demands to a bunch of other podcasters, as well. The good news is that the EFF is now trying to help those podcasters fight back.

What might make this even more interesting would be if people like Adam Carolla, who have huge audiences that take what they say really seriously, were able to get those audiences suddenly interested in just how totally screwed up our patent system is. Want the problems of the patent system to go mainstream? Just start having Adam Carolla talk about how messed up it is a few times on his podcast. Carolla has said that his podcast is the most downloaded podcast ever -- and if his listeners understood just how screwed up things are with the system, perhaps we could actually make a move towards really fixing an incredibly broken patent system. Carolla has apparently talked about it a little bit, and called for a "grassroots legal defense fund," but that's not going to change the actual system. If he could speak out against the problems of the overall system, rather than just that one patent, it might help permeate the public consciousness that it's the system itself that's broken.

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  1. icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), 7 Feb 2013 @ 7:57am


    The claims of the patent cover various iterations of an article of manufacture.

    Surprisingly, I'll agree:
    1. A media player for acquiring and reproducing media program files...comprising:
    a digital memory,
    a communications port...
    a processor coupled to said digital memory and to said communications port...
    2. A media player as set forth in claim 1 wherein said digital memory includes a mass storage device for persistently storing attribute data and media files downloaded via said communications port."

    It sounds to me like they've patented an iPod. In 2009.

    It is not software, nor is it a business method.

    Well, continuing reading the rest of the claims, they're mostly functions performed by software on the device patented in Claim 1. Which to my understanding of even the craziness of the patent system would wouldn't apply to someone doing similar things on a general purpose computer, right?

    So why are they suing people who produce and distribute podcasts over the internet?

    Unless they *are* claiming that the patent applies to software running on general purpose computers. But you just said they didn't patent software.

    So again, why are they suing people who produce and distribute podcasts over the internet?

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