In tech, patent trolls do not settle for small victories; they tend to go big, claiming that their one vague patent gives them the rights over gigantic swaths of the digital world. One troll insists that it owns the patent that covers all podcasting. Another claims it can lord over the maker of any app that asks users to submit data. And a particularly bold troll has spent years claiming it owns the rights to the very concept of playing advertisements before a free online videos–and it has tried shaking down YouTube and Hulu for royalty payments.
On Friday, the advertiser troll was finally stopped.
The troll is a company called Ultramercial LLC, and it had once won in federal court. But in a ruling released Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed that decision and declared that “the abstract concept of offering media content in exchange for viewing an advertisement” cannot be patented. It continued:
Adding routine additional steps such as updating an activity log, requiring a request from the consumer to view the ad, restrictions on public access, and use of the Internet does not transform an otherwise abstract idea into patent-eligible subject matter.[…]
It’s the latest victory against patent trolls. The U.S. Patent Office has been revoking tons of software patents, and courts have been routinely ruling against them. Earlier this year, a troll called Macrosolve went after Newegg because it claimed to broadly own a “system and method for data management.” Newegg fought back, and Macrosolve, perhaps sensing that the tide had turned, quickly folded.
Other trolls are still holding their ground, including the infamous Jim Logan, who claims to be the inventor of podcasting and holds a patent for a “system for disseminating media content representing episodes in a serialized sequence.” He has threatened many podcasters and sued Adam Carolla and his podcast producer Ace Broadcasting Network for $3 million dollars. The suit was settled out of court this year, and industry observers speculate that Carolla didn’t pay anything in the settlement. But for now, at least, Logan and many others are legally free to strike again.