In January 2013, Personal Audio, LLC filed lawsuits against three network companies in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas Marshall Division. Personal Audio claimed that the three defendants, namely, ACE Broadcasting Network, LLC, Howstuffworks.com and Togi Entertainment, Inc., have been infringing its patent by offering podcast to their subscribers. Personal Audio asked for relief including damages, cost, expenses, interest, enhanced damages and attorneys’ fees. Several very popular podcast shows were specifically targeted in the plaintiff’s petitions, including “The Adam Carolla Show” from ACE Broadcasting Network, the “Stuff You Should Know” from Howstuffworks.com and “Author Talk” from Togi Entertainment, Inc.
The patent in question, which was issued to the plaintiff on February 7, 2012 is entitled “System for Disseminating Media Content Representing Episodes in a Serialized Sequence,” described by the plaintiff as an audio program and message distribution system in which a host system transmits information regarding episodes to client subscriber locations. According to the press release of Personal Audio, the technology enabling podcasting was invented back in 1996 as part of an effort to develop a portable and personal audio system that would offer users a customized listening experience using content and data downloaded over the internet and is used by several media companies offering podcasting today. The plaintiff also indicates that it won a jury trial against Apple, Inc., over a similar patent known as the Playlist Patent in 2011.
The result of these cases could greatly impact the thriving and rapidly expanding podcasting industry, which at this time is widely accessible to content producers at minimal cost. If the plaintiff were to succeed in these lawsuits, there could be a foreseeable chilling effect on the industry. Presumably, the big players in this industry like network companies hosting popular podcasts (like those mentioned above) may be willing to pay the license or related fees to overcome the legal obstacles. However, it may be very difficult or economically prohibitive for smaller individual podcasters to enter or stay in the podcasting business.
Stay tuned for updates and developments on this Personal Audio litigation.