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Will patent trolls put a stop to your favorite podcasts?

James Careless | Sept. 1, 2014
A recent court settlement suggests that podcast fans can breathe a little easier. But it also offers a telling look at the impact patents are having on the technology world.

Patent fights
The fact that there's a EFF position funded by a $250,000 grant from Internet entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban speaks volumes about Cuban's contempt for patent trolls in general. "I've been arguing for years that trolls are crushing startups, [which is] bad for the economy and our country," Cuban told us via email. "I didn't want there to be any question about where I stood or what the issue was. The chair name made the point clear."

Asked about how patent trolls might hamper the growth of podcasting, Cuban replied, "It's not just podcasts. It's any startup. One troll that owns a ridiculous patent for running a wire up a sleeve to connect an iPod to ear buds has been harassing companies. I got sued by someone that took one of my ideas and patented it and then sued me for violating it."

The EFF's Nazer points the finger of blame at a underfunded U.S. Patent Office for the proliferation of patent lawsuits, which he says have doubled over the last decade. "On average, a patent examiner only has 18 to 19 hours to inspect a patent application, from start to finish," Nazer said. "That is just not enough time to do the degree of investigation that is required."

Podcasting's future
So are podcasters out of the woods now that Personal Audio took its shot at the popular Carolla podcast and missed? The company remains involved in legal cases involving CBS, Fox, and NBC, who presumably make enough money to be worth suing.

But for a podcaster like John Lee Dumas, the patent fight "has had zero impact on the podcasting sector thus far." Dumas would know: he's the founder and host of the EntrepreneurOnFire podcast, which has been downloaded over 8.6 million times and averages more than 800,000 unique listens a month in more than 145 countries.

"Anyone who has looked at the case has seen just how weak a case Personal Audio has and with the latest against Adam Corolla, it is obvious they are starting to recognize it too," Dumas said.

Dumas is also the founder of Podcasters' Paradise, which he described as a 1,250-member community of podcasters looking to create, grow, and monetize their podcasters. "None are concerned with Personal Audio, as monetizing directly from the podcast is not most podcasters' goals," he added. "Instead, it's all about building an online audience, and serving that audience in many different ways unrelated to podcasting."

Maybe so. However, just because Personal Audio appears to be at bay, doesn't mean that other patent trolls aren't waiting in the wings. As a result, podcasters and podcast fans should not become complacent. This particular battle may be won, but the patent war may not be over.


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