There's nothing like success to warrant a bit of added scrutiny, especially when it comes to Big Tech, specifically social media. Facebook likely longs for the days when its worst problems were questions of propriety and ownership; The Social Network might seem downright nostalgic in the face of concerns over hate speech and misinformation that threaten to unmoor democracy itself. Twitter is similarly vexed by its own efforts to curb invective and untruths, particularly from influential users. Now TikTok, not so long ago the fun new app for the youths, finds itself assailed on all sides, including on the IP front.
In addition to a potential presidential order banning the app over ostensible security concerns given its provenance (TikTok is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, whom critics suggest might turn over user data to the Chinese government), the platform is also being sued by a rival over alleged patent infringement. Triller, an app similar to TikTok both in its ability to create videos using an audio track and its inscrutability to anyone over the age of thirty-five, filed a lawsuit claiming that TikTok infringed upon its patent for a method of stitching together multiple videos over a single audio track, which Triller founders David Leiberman and Samuel Rubin were granted in 2017.
TechCrunch notes that while there are several apps that offer similar functionality to TikTok, TikTok is by far the biggest. Lest you think that Triller is simply looking to bring down Goliath, the company is planning similar suits against their other competitors for allegedly infringing upon that same patent.
The lawsuit, while perhaps warranted on its own, can't be divorced from the larger context of increased scrutiny of TikTok. The same order banning TikTok in the U.S. oddly opened the door for an acquisition by an American company for at least its U.S. operations, with Microsoft currently leading the charge to buy the platform. Given that the platform might find the U.S. government arrayed against it, a single patent lawsuit might seem a lesser concern for TikTok. Still, Triller's suit is yet another hit at a time when the company has more than enough to deal with.
Such is the life of any tech company that reaches a level of ubiquity, or at least overwhelming popularity. Whereas intellectual property infringement is an issue as old as IP itself, society is just now coming to grips with the power of social media, and the threat posed by one company handling so much personal data. Patent infringement or no, TikTok's issues may just be beginning.