Chances are you’ve listened to a podcast before, whether to keep up with the news, pass the time at the gym, or get mediocre fantasy football advice. But a lawsuit from a "patent troll" could threaten to bring an end to podcasting as we know it.
A group known as Personal Audio filed a lawsuit against podcast host Adam Carolla and his ACE Broadcasting Network. Carolla's "The Adam Carolla Show" is one of the most-downloaded shows in iTunes and an easy target for those looking to cash in on a broad patent, as Personal Audio is alleged to be doing. The patent the company holds broadly covers episodic content that can be downloaded from a specific URL and retrieved and stored by client software; basically, the definition of what a podcast it. Mr. Carolla has not taken the matter lying down. He has started a campaign to raise funds for his legal defense and appeared on other podcasts to raise awareness, rally support to the cause, and otherwise demonstrate a hustle not to be found among all podcast hosts.
This isn't Personal Audio's first foray into the world of patent trollery. In 2011 the company won a $8 million decision against Apple for infringing on patents held for downloadable playlists. That suit, along with the one currently pending against Mr. Carolla and his company, was filed in east Texas, a jurisdiction with a reputation for ruling in favor of patent plaintiffs and an unwillingness to allow for changes in venue. And in what can only be described as a stroke of remarkable fortune, the empty offices of Personal Audio just so happen to be located in east Texas, in the city of Marshall. The company has also sent out licensing demands to numerous other podcasts in an effort to extort every last dollar from the podcasting community.
Groups such as the Electronic Freedom Frontier have taken up the cause, seeking a re-examination by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the basis of prior art. While Personal Audio filed the relevant patent in 2009 as a continuation patent on their original 1996 filing, the EFF is claiming to have evidence to nullify the company's original claim. At stake is the future of podcasting as we know it; a ruling in Personal Audio's favor likely means that small, independent podcasts that can't afford licensing fees would likely shut down, and the most-popular offerings will have to start charging listeners to download to cover those costs, weeding out those who download but don't listen. It remains to be seen what the court will rule to be factually correct, and what changes the USPTO make make moving forward.