Podcasters Hit with Patent Infringement Suit for Podcasting
For years we have been listening to podcasts on i-Tunes and the Internet. It seemed like a natural transition of radio shows to the internet. Radio shows on demand! No one thought anything of it – not even the alleged “inventor” of podcasts who came up with the general idea in the mid-90’s.
Jim Logan says he first thought of a personal audio device that could “interact with the internet and your preferences to pull down, to your personal player, all the personal stuff you wanted to listen to.” He filed a family of patents in 1996, and launched a low-tech version of podcasts that entailed the customer picking a selection of newspaper and magazine articles. Then, his company would send the customer a cassette tape of those articles being read out loud.
The business, Personal Audio, was not successful, and Logan forgot about the venture until 2007, when his patent attorney discovered iTunes and determined it was infringing on Logan’s patent. Now, instead of producing a product, Personal Audio has become a bit of a patent troll as it goes after many companies for royalties. In 2007, Personal Audio won a patent infringement case against Apple for $8 million. Apple appealed, and the parties later settled for an undisclosed amount.
While some call Personal Audio a patent troll, Logan says he’s just trying to recoup his costs from his past venture. He says he “put [inaudible] equity and hard earned dollars behind the effort to come up with personalized audio back in the 90s.” He at least had the initial goal to bring a product to market, unlike companies that are typically identified as patent trolls. His actions are similar to a bankrupt company that turns to mere licensing to pay its debt. Should Personal Audio lose its right to enforce its patent, just because it no longer produces a product? What if Logan had realized what he had and sold it to Apple, which then formed iTunes? In this scenario, wouldn’t he appear to be a simple inventor who made money off of his invention?
Not all inventors can bring their ideas to market, yet they still should be allowed to enforce their patents and reap the benefits, regardless of if they have a product or not. Simply labeling Logan as a patent troll provides a scapegoat for the public to blame, instead of reevaluating whether the patent laws should be changed to hinder a patent based on old technology to cover new technology. Maybe then Logan’s cassette tape invention wouldn’t be read as covering today’s MP3s.