The U.S. Patent Office on Friday revoked key elements of a Texas company's patent, which the firm deployed in high-profile legal actions to claim ownership over a method for distributing podcasts and video episodes on the Internet.
Personal Audio LLC has drawn criticism for demanding licensing fees under its patent protections, which detractors like podcasters say threatens to undermine the widely used means of placing content online and were not the firm's innovations.
The decision by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office represents a victory for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which in 2013 filed a petition to have elements of the so-called podcasting patent invalidated.
It also could bolster media companies such as CBS Corp, which last year lost a $1.3 million judgment when a federal jury in Texas found the broadcaster infringed on Personal Audio's patent because of how CBS had placed television episodes on a website for online viewing.
Personal Audio in 1996 applied for a patent for a personal audio device, and in 2009 expanded that filing by claiming to have developed a concept for posting audio and video episodes to a regularly updated website, said Daniel Nazer, staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The company later sought licensing fees from podcasters, including comedian Adam Carolla, before bringing its claims against more deep-pocketed broadcasters such as CBS, Nazer said.
In its decision on Friday, a U.S. Patent Office board found the Electronic Frontier Foundation had "shown by a preponderance of the evidence" that Personal Audio's disputed patent claims for episodic content were in fact "unpatentable."
A representative for Personal Audio could not be reached for comment late on Friday.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in arguing before the U.S. Patent Office, had cited examples of media entities CNN and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation placing episodic content online before 1996 in ways that Personal Audio later claimed to have developed as a patented method, Nazer said.
"This is a patent on updating a Web page, when you really look at it, it's a patent on updating a table of contents where some of the links could go to media files," Nazer said. "This is not the kind of thing that should have been patentable and it certainly wasn't new, even in 1996."
Personal Audio could appeal the U.S. Patent Office decision by taking the case to federal court, Nazer said.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Curtis Skinner)