A patent that’ll kill podcasting?

I’m not a lawyer, but a buddy of mine sent me this link with a “Hmmm….” attached.

I did a “Hmmm…wha!?!” too when I thought about what Apple is doing with iTunes/iPod (and soon podcasting) and whether or not this patent from Command Audio will have any impact. On their site it states in part (I’ve bolded in blue the most germane part):

Command Audio’s patents cover the audio aspects of consumer devices and services that store broadcast media for playback at the consumer’s convenience.  Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) and the “on-demand” services they enable are presently the best-known embodiments of this technology.  These patents predate the development of the PVR market and cover a wide range of broadcast transmission technologies, devices and systems that incorporate on-demand functionality, an essential component of PVRs.

Below is one of several claims in Command Audio’s patents:

USPTO PATENT NO. 6,330,334, CLAIM 44:

A receiver comprising:

  • a television tuner;
  • a controller coupled to the television tuner and which provides audio from a signal received at the television tuner, wherein the audio is carried in an audio or video portion of television signals received at the tuner;
  • a memory coupled to the controller and which stores the audio;
  • a user interface coupled to the controller and which provides a menu; and
  • an output device coupled to the controller and which outputs the stored audio in response to a selection from the menu, wherein the stored audio has a designation associated with the menu.

That last bullet sure looks to me like an iPod connected to a computer with audio managed by iTunes.

If that’s not bad enough, Command Audio says their patents are relevant to any device that filters and caches broadcast audio for later access by a user, for example:

  • Radios with digital storage
  • PVRs (Personal Video Recorders), including cable and satellite set top boxes
  • HMGs (Home Media Gateways), including PCs with PVR capability.

Will these patents be enforceable for, say, an iPod that can record satellite radio? How come we haven’t seen Microsoft, HP and other PVR vendors getting sued for patent infringement?

According to Command Audio’s News section, in January of this year the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has ruled against Sony Electronics, Inc. (NYSE: SNE), rejecting Sony’s contentions that Command Audio purposely misled the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the early 1990s while seeking its foundation on-demand media patent (U.S. Patent No. 5,406,626). Consequently, Command Audio’s lawsuit against Sony for infringing two related Command Audio patents will continue to move forward. In June 2004 the Court ruled summarily that Sony had been infringing at least one of those patents, U.S. Patent No. 6,330,334.

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  1. Chris Koehn on June 10, 2005 at 12:33 am

    I just don’t get how someone can come up with an idea, and patent it without seeming to have done anything with the idea. Is Command Audio developing these technologies or just thinking them up? Did I miss something?

  2. Ed Costello on October 27, 2005 at 7:50 pm

    Command Audio started back in the mid 90’s developing an end-to-end service that could be described today as “Audio Tivo”. They licensed raw content from many sources (Radio, TV, newspapers, magazines) and processed the audio (they used their own voice talent for printed word content) with segment markers and patented compression techniques. These processed files were broadcast from Command Audio headquarters to receivers (manufactured by Thomson/RCA) via subcarriers leased from FM radio stations in major markets (Denver and Phoenix were the test markets). Subscribers’ devices captured and stored many hours of audio and could manipulate it like today’s MP3 players. Original plans laid out a network of satellite receivers and a nationwide network of major-market FM subcarriers. Remember, no wide-area networks were available at this time and cellular networks were (and still are) more expensive.

    When the s*&t hit the stockmarket fan, CA’s grand plans were no longer financable and the business plan changed. CA became a technology-enabling entity licensing their integral IP to enable XM, Motorola, iBiquity and others (mostly European Eureka 147 broadcasters) to provide similar services. Most of these licensees have yet to deploy services, though XM is beginning to.

    Along the way, CA’s execs had the foresight to insure its IP portfolio against infringement. When funds eventually dried up, the IP was all that remained. Sony/TiVo’s technology uses much the same concept as the original CA idea and, since the IP was insured against infringement (the underwriter bore the burden of litigation fees), CA had little to lose when the similarities were discovered.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.