In the digital world, it seems that everything is reinvented, and someone claims that they have a patent on that reinvention. In the last few weeks, we have seen news about patent claims asserted against radio broadcasters for their digital music storage systems, against public broadcasters for podcasts, and even against companies trying to comply with the FCC’s new guidelines for E-911 (emergency communications over wireless and VoIP networks) providers. These claims highlight that media companies and others in the communications industry have to be prepared for patent litigation almost as a cost of doing business – and need to consult with patent lawyers about strategies if they are faced with such claims, and consider the potential of concerted defenses with others similarly situated if the defense does not violate other laws (such as the antitrust laws). What claims have been raised recently?

Over the last two years, thousands of radio stations across the country have received letters claiming that their digital music storage systems violated a patent from a company called Mission Abstract Data. While the patents in question have a checkered history at the Patent Office – after being issued, they were reexamined and their basis questioned, with the Patent Office ultimately agreeing that the patents, as limited through the reexamination, were in fact valid. But that decision was itself challenged by equipment manufacturers whose music systems could infringe on the patent. That further reexamination is still underway.  Nevertheless, as that reexamination continues, the company that currently has rights to the patent, Digimedia, has sued four radio station owners in Texas claiming that they are violating these patents controlled by the company. These suits are in addition to a long-pending case against a number of large broadcasters, which has been stayed pending the outcome of the Patent Office reexamination (though the patent holder has asked that the stay be lifted – an argument to be considered later this month). Some observers have suggested that these new suits may be a precursor to other actions to try to convince reluctant broadcasters to take out a license rather than fight a lawsuit.Continue Reading More Patent Issues for Media Companies – Mission Abstract Data Patent Asserted in Law Suits Against 4 Radio Broadcasters, and a New Patent Claim Raised Against Podcasters, Including Public Broadcasters

Radio stations are once again hearing about the Mission Abstract Data patents, as a firm representing them has been seeking a royalty for the use of the patent for certain digital music storage and retrieval systems. We’ve written about that patent before. When we last wrote on the subject, the patent was subject to review by the Patent Office, which had raised issues appearing to question the underlying validity of that patent. Since then, the Patent Office reversed itself, finding that the patent (as clarified and narrowed by the holder) was in fact valid. But that determination was itself challenged by certain companies that have interests in digital music storage systems for radio stations and, in an order released last week, the Patent Office has once again suggested that there may be issues with the patent that could undermine its validity.

While this development appears promising for broadcasters concerned about the patent, broadcasters need to take this news with a grain of salt.  The Patent Office letter is at best preliminary, and the patent owner can file comments addressing the concerns raised by the Patent Office in the next 60 days, and then the challengers to the patent can reply 60 days after that. As we have seen in the past, a preliminary indication from the Patent Office that the patent may not be valid does not always withstand scrutiny when the final evaluation is completed, after presentations from both sides are received.  So what is a broadcaster to do? 

 Continue Reading The Latest on Radio’s Digital Music Storage Patent Issue

Many radio broadcasters have recently received a notice from a company called Mission Abstract Data, asking to begin discussions about royalty payments for the use of digital music storage systems, which that company claims fall under a patent they control.  This claim seemingly covered systems used by most music radio stations – systems sold by several well-known companies in the broadcast industry. Before