Electronic Frontier Foundation Wins Again
On Monday, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a ruling invalidating a “podcasting patent”. The patent’s holding company, Personal Audio LLC, threatened podcasts with lawsuits in late 2013, seeking damages. In April 2015, after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) crowdfunded an inter partes review (IPR) challenge to the patent, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office invalidated it.
In the late 90’s, Personal Audio founder Jim Logan sought to create, "a handheld MP3 player that could download off the Internet some kind of personalized audio experience," but his company flopped. While trying to recoup his investments, Logan started sending legal demand letters to podcasters and companies, seeking licensing fees or threatening lawsuits. Some efforts were successful, such as the case of podcaster Adam Carolla who raised $500,000 as part of a legal defense fund, and then settled out of court.
“As is typical in patents, overbroad wording could have covered not only podcasts, but any type of episodic content.”
The original patent described a "system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence." As is typical in patents, overbroad wording could have covered not only podcasts, but any type of episodic content. Filing a patent in the U.S. requires an invention to be useful, novel (new), and nonobvious. Personal Audio’s patent had a priority date of 1996, but the EFF was able to show that they were not the first “episodic content” on the web.
Back in 2015, two key prior examples helped the EFF beat the patent. First was CNN’s “Internet Newsroom”, which patent judges decided had "(1) episodes; (2) an updated compilation file; and (3) a 'predetermined URL' for the compilation file." EFF’s second example was a number of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcasts, including a science show titled Quirks & Quarks.
The Appeals Court’s affirming the ruling is great news for the web. Podcasts (such as ours) have one less thing to worry about going forward. Portable Audio has not filed any new lawsuits since suing Google in September 2015 over two other patents, so hopefully this is the end of the so-called “podcast-patent”.