Tech troll's podcasting patent blown out of the water by EFF torpedo

Appeal judges rip 'unpatentable' wads out of blueprints for distributing episodes


US patent judges have invalidated chunks of a podcasting patent used by troll non-practicing entity Personal Audio LLC to extract money from top podcasters and broadcasters.

Personal Audio doesn't produce podcasting software or hardware; its sole purpose is to sue people who allegedly infringe the patents it holds in the podcasting space: in this particular case, US patent 8,112,504, "a system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence."

(Personal Audio appears to have deleted its webpage about the '504 patent, but you can find it preserved on archive.org.)

The blueprints appear to describe, in a rather broad manner, the distribution of a podcast series. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which challenged Personal Audio's '504 patent, argues it is not a particularly new or novel idea. The foundation has pointed to the CNN Newsroom website, built way back in 1994, that made copies of news segments available online as an example of prior art.

Personal Audio's '504 patent was approved in 2012, and the Texas-based biz has been firing off writs alleging infringement to three US TV networks including CBS and NBC, plus American comedian Adam Carolla and other podcasters since.

Carolla spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees (partially crowdsourced) in a legal battle with the company in 2013. He eventually settled out of court in August 2014.

Amid all this, the EFF and a team of lawyers filed a petition to the patent office's appeal board in October 2013 calling for another look at the paperwork. In a ruling [PDF] published on Friday this week, the patent judges found in the foundation's favor, agreeing that there was demonstrable prior art.

The panel said the parts of the patent describing "an apparatus for disseminating a series of episodes represented by media files via the Internet as said episodes become available" are "unpatentable."

It's hoped this ruling means Personal Audio will be unable to successfully wield the '504 patent in court again.

"We're grateful for all the support of our challenge to this patent. Today is a big victory for the podcasting community," said EFF staff attorney Daniel Nazer, who also holds the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents.

"We're glad the Patent Office recognized what we all knew: 'podcasting' had been around for many years and this company does not own it."

"We have a lot to celebrate here," said EFF staff attorney Vera Ranieri.

"But unfortunately, our work to protect podcasting is not done. Personal Audio continues to seek patents related to podcasting. We will continue to fight for podcasters, and we hope the Patent Office does not give them any more weapons to shake down small podcasters."

Personal Audio has other podcasting patents: 6,199,076 and 7,509,178, which describe "an audio program and message distribution system in which a host system organizes and transmits program segments to client subscriber locations." It used these to sue Apple for $84m in 2009, settled for $8m in 2011, and used that to sue Cupertino again for devices not covered in the original case. ®


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