Personal Audio defends its podcasting patent

A new challenge to the company's patent protects big companies at the expense of a small inventor, the company says

The company that owns a U.S. patent for podcasting is confident the patent will stand up to a challenge initiated this week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Personal Audio's patents have stood up to past scrutiny, including a challenge from Apple, said Richard Baker, vice president of licensing for the Texas company.

"I'm confident that we have a valid patent," Baker said Friday, a day after EFF and the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society announced they were challenging the patent at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Baker called Personal Audio, founded in 1996 by inventor James Logan, an "American success story." He questioned why the EFF was working to protect NBC and CBS, two companies Personal Audio filed patent-infringement lawsuits against in April. With the patent challenge, the EFF is working for "large companies against a small business and a couple of inventors," he added.

Personal Audio holds a number of patents, including a 2012 patent for a system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence and a related 1996 patent for an audio program player including a dynamic program selection controller.

In addition to the lawsuits against NBC and CBS, Personal Audio filed lawsuits against ACE Broadcasting Network, HowStuffWorks.com and TogiEntertainment in January.

The EFF has called Personal Audio a "patent troll," with a business plan of filing lawsuits instead of making products. "Patent trolls have been wreaking havoc on innovative companies for some time now," EFF staff attorney Julie Samuels said in a statement. "But this particular breed of troll -- targeting end users, small businesses, startups, and even individuals like podcasters for simply using everyday products -- is a disturbing new threat."

Personal Audio was funded by the patent's inventors, but the company ran out of money before it could bring a product to market, Baker said. Logan "made a run at an operating company, but it was just too early for the technology," he said.

The company was able to hang on to several patents, however, and put them "in a drawer for 10 years," Baker added. "Is that a troll?"

Baker disputed that the company is a patent troll. "Every defendant calls every plaintiff a patent troll," he said. "I've heard IBM called a patent troll. It's one of those terms everyone defines differently."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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