In March we told you about the SHIELD Act which was introduced into Congress to help reform patent laws, particularly targeting patent owners who are “non-practicing,” meaning that they aren’t actually making use of their patents.
One such “non-practicing” patent owner is Jim Logan, whose company Personal Audio is suing podcasters like Adam Corolla, claiming that they own licensing fees based upon a patent he filed in 1996. In April CBS and NBC were added to the list of defendants.
NPR’s Planet Money podcast actually interviewed Logan for its May 31 episode. But first hosts Robert Smith and Zoe Chace listen to the alleged original podcasts from the 1990s, which were just magazine articles read on cassette tapes. His magazines on tape idea failed, but his patent was approved
It’s illuminating to hear Logan and his attorney defend the patent even though he had nothing to do with the design of technologies like iPods which made podcasting possible, and is not a podcaster himself. At the end of the piece, Chace asks Logan and his lawyer if she and Planet Money are breaking the law for producing a podcast without licensing the patent. Predictably, they refuse to answer.
Chace also interviews podcaster Marc Maron, who is arguably a small fish compared to NBC and CBS. Having received a threatening letter from Personal Audio, along with a copy of the patent, Maron says, “he appears to have patented a diagram.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation announced last week a stepped up campaign “to save podcasting.” The EFF plans to challenge the validity of the original 1996 patent with the US Patent and Trademark Office with a two-pronged attack.
First, the EFF plans to argue that the supposed invention in the patent was too obvious to merit a patent. Secondly, the EFF hopes to show that Logan and Personal Audio didn’t invent anything new or unique by finding publication of similar or identical ideas for podcasting or distributing episodes over the internet from before Oct. 2, 1996.
The overall issue of patent trolling has caught the attention of the White House. On Tuesday a task force on high-tech patent issues was announced, along with executive actions “to help bring about greater transparency to the patent system and level the playing field for inventors.” Included in these actions are outreach efforts to help end-users of patented technologies–both businesses and consumers–know their rights when threatened with patent litigation.
A shorter version of the Planet Money podcast piece is part of this week’s episode of This American Life. It takes a in-depth look at the issue of patent trolling, exploring an East Texas town which is home to many patent trolls, including a company called Intellectual Ventures which is accused of being one of the biggest trolls around.