Are The Trolls Back In Town?
Where’s the next Silicon Valley? Apparently it’s Belieze, home of Global Interactive Media (GIM). Surely you’ve heard of them. No? Every time you use an app to purchase music you’re listening to online you’re using their technology. Oh, no. Wait. It’s not their technology. It’s their patents. Actually, It’s not their patents. It’s the patents they acquired. Patents that have never been used to make viable product.
While there’s no conclusive proof Global Interactive Media is a patent troll, its actions follow the pattern: no history of using the patents for a product; broad claims; sudden litigation against companies that, if they are infringing, have been doing so for years.
Here we go again.
If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you know I’m no fan of patent trolls. And that opinion is re-enforced every time I read about a corporation claiming to have a lock on technology that’s been in use for years. In GIM’s case, the company recently became active enforcing patents it’s held since 1994. According to a post on the RAIN blog
Global Interactive has been targeting broadcasters and media companies that have audio playing and display information about the track in their website or app interfaces. So far, the plaintiff has already reached settlements with A&E, FX Networks, Shazam, and Tribune Media Company. It is in negotiations with SoundHound and has recently filed against six more businesses: TuneIn, Hubbard Broadcasting, Scripps Interactive, Viggle, TimeWarner Cable, and ReelzChannel.
How does this translate into the real world?
By way of example, InsideRadio.com reports GIM’s litigation involving Hubbard’s classic rock station WDRV Chicago (97.1) charges the station provides “…website visitors with information about songs being played, including ‘receiving one or more user inquiries from one or more recipients,’ and ‘…creating a program description file comprising program information related to program material to be broadcast in the future.’ ” A second claim alleges infringement on a patent for “providing listeners or viewers with automated information about program material.”
With such a wide array of defendants it’s questionable whether all of them independently developed infringing technology. Yet, that’s what GIM’s actions imply. There’s a good possibility, though, GIM has patents on a concept.
You can’t have a valid patent on a concept. But you can hit somebody over the head with an invalid one. Worthless or improperly-issued patents are used as clubs to extract money from deep-pocketed companies that find it fiscally expedient to pay a settlement rather than take the patent holder to court.
It’s the Same Old Song
Why should we care? Few of us have music-based podcasts, and fewer still sell that music via websites or custom apps. But remember that claim of “…providing listeners or viewers with automated information about program material.” Does that sound like something you might want in a custom podcast app? If so, better open up your wallet. Because settlement fees and royalties come out of the price you pay for that app.
Assuming you can find anyone willing to build it for you.
Patent troll activity puts a damper on innovation. What young company, with a novel approach to custom apps, would want to run afoul of a patent infringement suit just as it was making the rounds of VCs? It’s safer to put the technology on the shelf and wait until…well, who knows?
This is why it’s time to define the limits of the patent troll game and make it too risky to play. If you haven’t done so before, write your elected representatives and urge them to vote for patent reform now.
Let’s take our toll on the trolls. Instead of the other way around.