Patent Trolling the Podcast

Hey you know that thing where two people walk towards each other and try to step around each other but keep stepping to the same side and it gets awkward… I own that now.

If that sounds utterly moronic please dear reader cast your eyes towards the announcement from VoloMedia (I have no idea who they are either).

VoloMedia proudly announce securing a patent for ‘podcasting’, but not just podcasting, in fact they own the concept of episodic media downloads. Note the date on the announcement is July 29th 2009, not July 29th 1998 when something like this may indeed have been a flash of insight. Years after the iPod spurred the creation of ‘podcasts’ and thus the name, VoloMedia have claimed ownership over not just the podcast but the whole idea of downloading episodic content. Quite how this has occurred baffles me, surely someone in the U.S patent office had vaguely noticed that this already exists. According to their CEO the company filed for this patent in November 2003  and it has taken this long to process.

Firstly the RSS2ipod script (Google it) was released in October 2003 to provide users with an automated way of moving downloaded radio shows in MP3 format to their iPod. This implies that there were already episodic shows being downloaded and listened to through media devices before the patent was filed.

Secondly, should it be the case that if a practice has developed fairly independently of a business before the patent is finalised that that patent should be honoured? Even if VoloMedia did come up with this idea independently, by the time they receive their patent the concept is taken for granted as public domain. Should anyone have the right to come along and say “I had the idea first so now you have to pay me”?

Large companies like Apple have already established empires on this concept with the iTunes Store. Apple has utilised the idea and made a very profitable business, but they didn’t claim dominion over the general mechanism of episodic downloads, they left it in the public domain for others to do as they would, confident that they had enough clout beyond just the concept. Granted Apple are vicious about their IP with other products but this they let go. VoloMedia are apparently in talks with Apple and hope to ‘grow the business’. If they did attempt to claim rights to a cut of the iTunes store the only scenario I can imagine is Steve Jobs trying to pretend he’s listening whilst crying with laughter into his black polo neck and releasing the hounds. This patent isn’t about extorting the established, its about playing parasite on the startup.

Their intentions become apparent with the mention of Hulu, a legal tv streaming site that is gaining massive popularity.

The episodic media download industry is still in its infancy. There will come a day when all the content on Hulu is available as an episodic download.

Such unabashed patent-trolling would impress me if it didn’t enrage me more-so. Their intentions are clearly to wait until companies begin offering downloadable episodic content and then jump on them for a cut. This is not the kind of patent that encourages innovation, its the kind that atrophies it.

Props to Thresq.com for the sources

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