WC admits that Personal Audio isn’t your typical patent troll. Unlike most patent trolls, Personal Audio actually had a product, although that product failed a long time ago, and the concepts that Personal Audio tried to patent were incorporated into an actual product.
It’s just that the scope of the claims were overly broad.
That didn’t stop Personal Audio from trying to shake businesses down. And occasionally succeed. In fact, in the Eastern District of Texas, home to tumbleweeds, free range cattle and uncounted hordes of patent trolls, Personal Audio settled with Apple being asked to hand over $8 million to settle a patent infringement claim involving iPod playlists.
But two recent developments have set back patent trolls like Personal Audio. First, the federal courts have significantly restricted their venue shopping. The Eastern District of Texas is going to have to find something else to do. In a May 2017 decision called TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods, the U.S. Supreme Court pretty much put and end to the kind of egregious forum shopping that led to the Eastern District of Texas being the forum for more than half the patent litigation in the U.S. It’s long past time; WC has railed against the insanity of the nation’s intellectual property cases being tried in Marshall, Texas. Well, Marshall is going to experience an economic depression.
Even more importantly, it looks like the effort to resolve patent licensing disputes without litigation may finally be getting off the ground. There’s something called an “inter partes review,” or IPR, which allows anyone to challenge a patent at the US Patent and Trademark Office. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a crowd-funded effort, challenged Personal Audio’s claim to a patent on podcasting in an IPR. And won. Personal Audio appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which affirmed the April 2015 inter partes review (IPR) ruling. So there is now a court-approved process that allows anyone to challenge a patent’s validity at the US Patent and Trademark Office, an administrative process instead of litigation.
It says a lot about frustration with patent trolls that the Electronic Frontier Foundation raised twice the amount of its goal in its crowd-funding campaign. And podcasting was saved from the clutching fingers of Personal Audio.
All around, a satisfying series of events.