If you’re a fan of Serial, This American Life, and National Public Radio, and if your day doesn’t really get launched without a laugh from the likes of Adam Corolla, well, all you podcast aficionados can take a deep breath: Personal Audio LLC, a patent claimant that had threatened to flip a fiscal off switch on many on the medium, has lost a key legal contest.
The firm has pursued infringement and licensing fee claims against many podcasters, winning some cases and attracting the attention of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose attorneys appealed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board. There, many of the key claims in the “podcasting patent” held by Personal Audio were invalidated by officials who decided that Personal Audio did not actually make anything new before filing its application; the board, therefore, found that the key patents at issue were “un-patent-able.”
Personal Audio has asserted for awhile that podcasters like Corolla infringed on its broad claim to the technology and owed the firm licensing fees. These claims ultimately led to settlements with many podcasters, though these resolved cases likely proved less profitable to Personal Audio than it might have wished. The firm did end a much publicized battle with Corolla; no terms were disclosed. Personal Audio went to court over some of its infringement claims and won a $1.3 million judgment against CBS (though, after costs, the award may not have been all that profitable).
A disturbing patent trend
Personal Audio has not responded to the EFF win. EFF has said it is pleased by the patent trial board’s decision but is disturbed by the growing trend “involving claims of invention and ownership over obvious processes lacking the kind of innovation for which the patent system was created to nurture and protect.”
EFF’s legal intervention comes at a key time for podcasting, which is seeing not just a renaissance but a boom. Analysts say the medium is a beneficiary not only of the time consumers are spending online but also their increased access and reliance for entertainment on devices like smart phones and tablets and while in their smarter cars. Potential disruption by patent claims of this burgeoning medium has the attention of many in both the entertainment industry and the technology industry.