U.S. Patent Office: Patent Troll Does Not Entirely Own Concept of “Podcasting”

“Podcasting” might as well have been the word of the year in 2014, when “Serial” shot the form straight to the top of the pop-culture buzz charts for a few months. But while everyone in America was plugging in earbuds and trying to decide whodunit, the U.S. Patent Office had the more important end of the challenge: deciding who actually owns the patent for the idea of podcasting.

In short? Score one for the good guys. The decision addresses a few very specific elements of the patent claim, but no, the U.S. Patent Office found, this company does not actually have the exclusive ownership of releasing episodic audio content over the internet in a regular, updated way.

The matter came to a hearing at the Patent Office last December. Personal Audio, your basic “non-practicing” patent troll entity, claimed that they owned a patent on the tech that allows podcasting to work, and therefore lots of big, powerful companies with deep pockets — like CBS and CNN — owe them money.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which often represents people and companies trying to assert their rights in the digital world, stepped in and challenged Personal Audio’s claims last October, and the issue went to a hearing in December. The Patent Office released the result of that hearing today.

In their decision (PDF), the Patent Office works its way through the very, very specific arguments about wording and meaning. It is not unlike reading a geometric proof, in the way it builds a clear argument of facts and existing rulings. Ultimately, however, the dry legalese ends up with one result: the patent troll does not own podcasting.

“Petitioner [the EFF] has shown by a preponderance of the evidence that claims 31-35 of [the patents] are unpatentable,” the order concludes. “Because this is a final written decision, parties to the proceeding seeking judicial review of the decision must comply with the notice and service requirements.”

“We have a lot to celebrate here,” EFF Staff Attorney Vera Ranieri said in a statement. “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.”

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