When NPR Podcasters Hit the Patent System – An Update

by McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP
Contact

NPRIn May of this year, the NPR podcast "Planet Money" released an episode entitled "When Patents Hit the Podcast."  At that time, we reported on this podcast, and the misconceptions of the patent system that the show perpetuated (see "When NPR Podcasters Hit the Patent System").  NPR rebroadcast the episode last week, including an update related to the podcasting patent that was featured in that show, owned by Personal Audio LLC ("Personal Audio").  Even though that patent does not deal with the Biotech or Pharmaceutical industry, the criticisms that the show levied against the patent system affect all patents.  Therefore, an update of our story seemed appropriate.

EFFAs suggested, the majority of the Podcast was a straight repeat of the earlier show.  One of the updates provided was a description of the recently introduced patent-reform legislation.  The only other update was a report that, as Planet Money host Zoe Chace put it, the Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF") recently filed "a complaint" with the Patent Office saying that the podcast patent "should not exist."  The EFF is an organization that describes itself as a "donor-funded nonprofit" that "has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights."  The originally aired episode explained that the EFF was seeking to invalidate this patent at the United States Patent Office.  The EFF has now filed a petition for inter partes review of U.S. Patent No. 8,112,504 ("System for Dissmeinating Media Content Representing Episodes in a Serialized Sequence"), the so-called podcasting patent.  Interestingly, the EFF basically crowd-sourced both the cost of filing the petition, and the technological substance found within the petition.  A link can still be found on the EFF website for the "Save Podcasting" donation page, on which it is reported that the original goal of $30,000 was met in under 10 hours.  The website solicited donations at levels from its Silicon/Student Member ($25) to as high as its Super Major Donor ($2,500).  The site reports having received $76,890 to date, although it does not indicate what it will do with the excess money, other than its work to "stop trolls and stupid patents for good."

With regard to the art cited in the petition, the EFF appears to have crowd-sourced this information also.  The EFF website contains a link labeled "Prior Art," which opens an "Ask Patents" webpage requesting help to "bust a patent being asserted against podcasting."  Claim 31, the claim that has been asserted against several podcasters, reads as follows:

13. Apparatus for acquiring and reproducing media files representing episodes in a series of episodes as said episodes become available, said apparatus comprising: a digital memory, a communications port coupled to the Internet for transmitting data requests for data identified by specified URLs, for receiving downloaded data identified by said URLs in response to said requests, and for storing said downloaded data in said digital memory, and a processor coupled to said digital memory and to said communications port for executing one or more utility programs for: performing, from time to time, one of a sequence of update operations, each of said update operations comprising: downloading via the Internet the current version of a compilation file identified by a predetermined known URL, and storing attribute data contained in said current version of said compilation file in said digital memory, said attribute data describing one or more episodes in a series of episodes, said attribute data for each given one of said episodes including one or more episode URLs identifying one or more corresponding media files representing said given one of said episodes, accepting a selection of a particular episode described by attribute data stored in said digital memory by the operator of said apparatus, downloading and storing the particular media file identified by an episode URL included in the attribute data for said particular episode if said particular media file is not already stored in said digital memory, and reproducing said particular media file in a form perceptible to said operator.

This patent claims priority back to October 2, 1996.  The Planet Money hosts noted that Personal Audio originally distributed magazine content via audio tapes.  They joked, therefore, that the patent could be invalidated by any teenager in the 1980s that created a mixed tape.  Clearly, such a tape would not invalidate the above claim (which speaks volumes regarding the patent sophistication of the Planet Money reporters).  The EFF, on the other hand, has an understanding of the patent system, even if they are skeptical of it.  They requested on the webpage "prior art that describes accessing a series of media files organized as episodes, tracks, installments, or the like, through the use of "compilation" data that (a) available to be downloaded by a client device, and (b) updated to describe the media files that are currently available."  To date, they received 107 answers.

The inter partes review petition for the '504 patent references three different prior art "publications" that were alleged to anticipate or render obvious at least claims 31-35 of the patent.  The first piece of prior art included was the "Geek of the Week" Internet talk radio show.  The first two grounds referenced in the petition were (1) the website www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/radio/radio.html, appearing on April 22, 1993, and (2) the April 22, 1993 edition of the SurfPunk Technical Journal.  These "publications" were cited as 35 U.S.C. § 102(b) prior art.  The first of these publications was one of the webpages for the "Geek of the Week" Internet talk radio show.  The SurfPunk Technical Journal publication, on the other hand, republished the "Geek of the Week" webpage as it existed on April 22, 1993.  The petition also included a third ground for invalidity related to the Geek of the Week publications themselves.  In an abundance of caution, the EFF alleged that the Geek of the Week publications collectively contained all of the limitations, and therefore rendered the claims 31-35 obvious.  To help provide some context of these early "podcasts," the Planet Money updated episode contained some of the audio from these early "Geek of the Week" shows.

The second prior art reference was a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ("CBC") Radio Article, which appeared on January 1, 1996, and which described an Internet radio trial that was available on demand beginning in December 1993.  This article allegedly described the "availability of regularly-updated episodic radio programs on a web page at a predetermined location."  This was cited as 35 U.S.C. § 102(a) prior art.  Finally, the third prior art publication was the "Internet CNN Newsroom," which was a master's thesis submitted to MIT in May 1995, and made available on August 10, 1995.  Apparently the limitation of an "updated" compilation file was missing from the publication, but the EFF alleged that such a file would have been an obvious design choice.

We take no position on the merits of this inter partes review petition, but we will continue to monitor its progress.  As we noted at the time, such a proceeding is a completely legitimate mechanism to address these so-call "bad" patents that people consider to be overbroad.  It would appear that if the EFF's characterization of these prior art publications is correct, even if they do not serve to invalidate the claims, it is a distinct possible that the claims will be narrowed such that Personal Audio will no longer be able to assert them against podcasters.  This is because the cited art appears to be similar to the same activity that gave rise to the demand letters and infringement lawsuits (such as the dissemination of podcasts like Marc Maron's WTF podcast and "The Adam Carolla Show").  Of course, we have not yet heard from Personal Audio, because they have filed no response yet with the Patent Office.  Nevertheless, it would not be surprising if Personal Audio was able to identify some distinction between their claims and these Internet radio shows from years earlier.

 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP
Contact
more
less

McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.