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Apple Ordered To Pay $8M For Playlist Patents 104

Posted by timothy
from the it's-the-east-texas-heat-that-addles dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A federal jury in Texas has decided against Apple in a patent infringement lawsuit and ordered it to pay $8 million to Personal Audio LLC, a patent licensing company (aka troll). The lawsuit started in 2009. Last year Apple's three fellow defendants (Sirius XM Radio, Coby Electronics and Archos) settled. Apple said the patents were invalid and not infringed. The patent holder demanded $84M and will now get about 10% of that amount. Juries in East Texas frequently rule in favor of patent holders. In the same district court Lodsys has already filed four lawsuits. In one of them it targets seven app developers and Apple has moved to intervene. The first two developers were already given a deadline: they must answer Lodsys's complaint by July 21, unless they request an extension."
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Apple Ordered To Pay $8M For Playlist Patents

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  • Even kids these days know not to feed the trolls.
    • by Robert Zenz (1680268) on Monday July 11, 2011 @08:50AM (#36719084) Homepage

      The problem with patent trolls is, that they're similar but quite different from internet trolls:

      * Internet Trolls: They want your attention, to harass you and that you get angry. They achieve this by posting/writing nonsense, half-truths and lies anywhere into the internet. Solution: Ignore them, they might shout louder, but you can still ignore them.

      * Patent Tolls: They want your money. They utilize a broken patent system and the courts. Solution: Burn them with fire. Hint: Ignoring them might result in you getting sued and you might lose everything.

      • Solution: Burn them with fire.

        But then you run the risk of getting charged with arson and/or some sort of murder charge. I'm not sure if it's worth it.

        • by Alex Belits (437) *

          Solution: Burn them with fire.

          But then you run the risk of getting charged with arson and/or some sort of murder charge. I'm not sure if it's worth it.

          Compared to the cost of litigation it just as well may be.

  • At the notion that you could get a patent on the idea of transferring a playlist from a computer to an MP3 player(ie. a second computer, but smaller...)

    M3Us have been around for ages, and playlists generally are really just a special case of programs accepting lists of files as arguments, which is downright ancient. And transferring a set of commands from one computer to a second, more embedded, computer? I'm pretty sure I was FTPing postscript to some HP from back when they knew how to build them proper
  • Instead of wasting silly amounts of money on licences, legal fees and patent portfolios wouldn't it be more cost effective to lobby the law makers to change patent law to mean software couldn't be patented?

    Wouldn't that be the fiscal duty of CEOs to do so?

    • by lpp (115405)

      It would only be fiscally responsible of the CEO to do so if they lost more money due to fighting software related patents than they earn by licensing their own software patents. That means the motivation to eliminate software patents is borne entirely by the smaller companies with little to nothing in the way of a software portfolio, everything to lose if they remain intact, and much less money to fight that system with.

      • by Ice Tiger (10883)

        FTA "Apple recently paid $2 billion for a collection of 4G wireless networking patents from Canadian telecommunications company Nortel in hopes of gaining a competitive advantage in the smartphone race."

        It's not just fighting the patent trolls it's about the other costs as well.

        Lobbying tends to have much greater return on investment.

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday July 11, 2011 @09:02AM (#36719184) Journal
        Gigantic cross-licensed patent arsenals certainly do help keep the little people in their place; but there is one additional factor: The patent troll.

        Large patent-holders are mostly locked in a cold war with one another, lots of needless expenditure; but relatively little blood most of the time, and they get to be superpowers and crush smaller competitors like insects(or buy them out when the smaller competitor discovers that they have something quite innovative; but would need to license 3,000 patents to make it to market...)

        Patent trolls, though, by possessing patents; but never doing anything that could infringe on patents(because their only business is patent trolling) disrupt this cushy equilibrium. They are sort of the non-state suitcase bombers with nothing to lose in the patent wars.

        Perversely, if we want meaningful patent reform, it might actually be best to applaud and encourage patent trolling as much as possible. As long as 'defensive' patents build up in the arsenals of incumbents, the incumbents have very limited incentive to change things. The lawyers cost money, sure; but the strategic advantage is worth it. Add enough patent trolls to the mix, though, and they'll have to deal with an enemy who has no interest in cross-licensing and friendship, and who has nothing they can threaten...
        • Patent trolls, though, by possessing patents; but never doing anything that could infringe on patents(because their only business is patent trolling) disrupt this cushy equilibrium. They are sort of the non-state suitcase bombers with nothing to lose in the patent wars.

          Perversely, if we want meaningful patent reform, it might actually be best to applaud and encourage patent trolling as much as possible.

          So... One man's troll is another man's freedom fighter!

          • I don't know of any trolls who profess such idealistic motives; but the existence of patent trolls arguably does more to discourage the People Who Matter from supporting patents than just about anything else. Little people who try to actually make things are exactly the sort of suckers you can crush with your patent arsenal, and other titans tend to settle down into a relatively polite cross-license stalemate. Trolls are the freelance suitcase bomber extortionists of the patent world.

            The closest analogy
    • Unless said company holds lots of patents or after taking a patent blow is in a field that can begin developing/buying patents itself.

      I find it easiest to think of patents as the nuclear weapons of the business world. Sure, we would likely be better off if we lived in a world where the thought of needing them never came up. A lot of companies and people may wish them all gone. But the patent system is too useful to completely reform for the big players, but just broken enough to encourage non-aggression

    • by poltsy (1897872)
      You mean to just let anyone compete against you without being able to intimidate and/or sue them in to submission? Hell no! These trolls are but a minor irritation considering the huge barrier to entry patents provide.
    • by DJRumpy (1345787)

      They are already doing so, and that includes Apple. Even so, they can't simply roll over for any patent troll in the hopes that patent reform actually happens.

      http://www.patentfairness.org/media/press/ [patentfairness.org]

      Instead of wasting silly amounts of money on licences, legal fees and patent portfolios wouldn't it be more cost effective to lobby the law makers to change patent law to mean software couldn't be patented?

      Wouldn't that be the fiscal duty of CEOs to do so?

      Coalition for Patent Fairness members include Adobe, A

      • Instead of wasting silly amounts of money on licences, legal fees and patent portfolios wouldn't it be more cost effective to lobby the law makers to change patent law to mean software couldn't be patented?

        Wouldn't that be the fiscal duty of CEOs to do so?

        Coalition for Patent Fairness members include Adobe, Apple, Cisco, Dell, Google, Intel, Intuit, Micron, Oracle, RIM, SAP, and Symantec.

        That coalition has no such goal, according to their website. They just want the system to favor them.

  • This kind of stuff keeps a lot of people from getting into business.

    • To avoid the jurisdiction of unfriendly district courts in Texas, would it be enough not to allow products to be shipped to Texas?
      • What about the interstate commerce clause? Can you sell the "used" stuff in Texas?

        • by Nadaka (224565)

          Interstate commerce clause applies to EVERYTHING according to the SCOTUS. Even things that are only sold locally.

          • by Nadaka (224565)

            Note: hit submit instead of continue editing...

            It even applies to things that are not even sold at all, for instance a farmer growing grain to feed to his own animals because he could have bought that grain from someone in another state instead.

          • Even things that aren't being sold at all. If you grow your own wheat to avoid participating in interstate commerce, you are participating in interstate commerce.
        • by tepples (727027)

          What about the interstate commerce clause?

          How would a federal district court in Texas have jurisdiction over a transaction between someone in California and someone in Indiana?

          Can you sell the "used" stuff in Texas?

          Infringement would not be willful.

      • by wkcole (644783)

        To avoid the jurisdiction of unfriendly district courts in Texas, would it be enough not to allow products to be shipped to Texas?

        No. Patent cases are Federal cases and it does not matter much in picking a specific Federal court venue whether a defendant that does business globally and is based in the US has any operations in a particular district. A plaintiff can justify the venue based on their convenience and the expertise of the court, since a company like Apple isn't really hampered by having to get lawyers to someplace like Lufkin TX to argue a case. For matters of clear Federal jurisdiction (i.e. not issues like state and l

        • Patent cases are Federal cases

          I agree with this, except that the decisions of the Court of Appeals of one circuit aren't necessarily binding on another circuit.

          and it does not matter much in picking a specific Federal court venue whether a defendant that does business globally and is based in the US has any operations in a particular district.

          If what you say is the case, then why do so many companies choose to sue in Texas rather than elsewhere?

          • by wkcole (644783)
            CAVEAT: I AM NOT A LAWYER AND TREATING MY WORDS AS LEGAL ADVICE WOULD BE INSANE

            Patent cases are Federal cases

            I agree with this, except that the decisions of the Court of Appeals of one circuit aren't necessarily binding on another circuit.

            True, and in some circumstances a decision only applies to a specific judicial district. However, the sorts of cases where decisions only apply to a particular district or circuit are usually involving questions of law, rather than questions of fact. Questions of fact in civil cases such as patent cases are almost never subject to serious appeals. It would be unworkable to require plaintiffs to prove that a defendant violated

  • TEXAS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by just_another_sean (919159) on Monday July 11, 2011 @08:59AM (#36719144) Homepage Journal

    Oh boy, here we are again. All I had to read was

    A federal jury in Texas has decided against Apple in a patent infringement lawsuit

    It's too early on a Monday to go any further; I think I just might be sick to my stomach if I do.

    emphasis mine

    • by Idbar (1034346)
      Well, let's face it everyone files where ever they get the most out of it.

      Filing copyright under US rules. Filing patent infringement in Texas. Have you ever wondered why many companies have offices in Delaware, where they all curiously file for Chapter 11?

      Everyone look for the local rules that will be better to them. How is that news? The actual news is that Apple didn't have a patent for playlists.
      • The actual news is that Apple didn't have a patent for playlists.

        I don't disagree; from a strictly doing business today standpoint.

        But if you sit back and read that slowly it describes to me, in an abstract way, exactly what is wrong with the patent system. A patent on listing something? Really? I just don't see how it furthers the arts and science in our society.

        • by Idbar (1034346)
          And I agree with you. But someone needs to take the hit, does it need to be a big corporation? If it is, will they take steps to improve the patent system or to make it better "for them"?

          Note that Apple is already in a crusade for suing people for their "App Store" trademark, for GUI patents and some more, which, as you said, is also ridiculous.

          It's a catch 22, should the legal system rule in favor of the small "troll" company or the large "bully" corporation?
    • So now we know the computers in Star Trek will never be a reality. Because these guys have a patent on a machine responding to "Computer, here is the list of songs I would like to hear..."

      And these patents will be extended well past the 24th century.

  • by whiteboy86 (1930018) on Monday July 11, 2011 @09:00AM (#36719156)
    EU doens't recognize software patents, US patent trolls can try to sue me.
    • by tepples (727027)
      So how do you expect millions of customers who happen to have been born in the US to move to the EU to escape the US software patent regime?
      • There is this wonderful invention, called the internet. Should try it one day.

        • by Ice Tiger (10883)

          You mean Tron was a documentary? :)

        • There is this wonderful invention, called the internet.

          If an EU manufacturer sells a physical device containing a copy of patented software to a customer in the US, the patent holder can (and often does successfully) request that the shipment get stopped at the US border.

          • But we aren't speaking about physical goods, but software. Just look at Ubuntu, they're located in South-Africa, so they don't give a shit about the mpeg* software patents. All they asl is that if you don't have licenses for the patents then click cancel. You can bet most US users don't have licenses and still click "ok".
            On the other hand Red Hat doesn't host codecs in their repository, so the media players they ship won't work out of the box; I spent quite a bit of time getting them work, but I just gave u

            • You can bet most US users don't have licenses and still click "ok".

              If worse came to worst, the patent holders could sue any U.S.-based mirror that includes the patented parts of Ubuntu. Or they could sue Canonical for not adding a geolocation feature to the default install of software-center that discovers whether a license is required at the place of installation.

      • Americans will have to realize that if they don't take a stand and vote for sensible politicians, then their own qualities of life will suffer. I have no sympathy for them. In a democracy, there's no one to blame for a bad government than the people that voted for them. Of course, whether America really is a democracy or a 'free country' is an open question.

        • by tepples (727027)

          Of course, whether America really is a democracy or a 'free country' is an open question.

          On paper it is, but in practice it isn't. Any candidate for U.S. federal office not approved by the movie studios gets no positive coverage on TV news or other news outlets with the same corporate parent as a movie studio.

      • By boat?

    • by james_pb (156313)

      Replace your law firm _immediately_. They're not competent.

      Yes, the EU has software patents, they just don't call them that. You get them in through mechanisms that looked to me (a non-lawyer) kind of like US business method patents, but that's too much of a simplification. When you're interviewing new legal firms, have them talk you through their process for European software patents. It's not that complicated, and only a little more expensive than the US. It's been a couple years, but I think the numbers

  • by DarthVain (724186) on Monday July 11, 2011 @09:11AM (#36719290)

    I have zero sympathy for these tech companies. Apple, MS, Sony, all of them troll those waters, and sue each other as often as they can. The actually seem to want to protect this and continue this practice. So when one of the big guys that file 1000's of these things each and every YEAR, actually get boned by some little troll somewhere, I can't exactly get too worked up about it. They built the house, they get to live in it.

    • by Bozdune (68800) on Monday July 11, 2011 @09:47AM (#36719636)

      Exactly. Large companies have been assembling software and process patent portfolios for years, either to threaten their competitors or to defend (via countersuit) against patent claims from competitors. But the landscape changes completely when trolls with nothing to lose can sue based on some patent they picked up for a few bucks. Hey, big companies, wake up and smell the coffee: your strategy just doesn't make sense any more.

      So ratchet up the pain, trolls. Go for it! I call for more pain. "Pain, Captain." Intense pain. The faster big tech companies wake up to a dismal future of slow death, the faster they'll wake up their trained congresscritters to invalidate the whole ugly, stinking mess. Guys, I'm sorry that your billion-dollar patent portfolio suddenly becomes a zero-value patent portfolio; but it's either that, or you can have your lifeblood sucked out by trolls.

      And, let's not forget that the rest of the world (ahem China ahem) will blithely ignore all of this nonsense. Because their engineers are unencumbered by legions of lawyers, they will innovate us into the Stone Age. I hate to be melodramatic, but this is a national security issue for the USA. Software patents will sink us. They really will.

      • Look at what happened to the small aircraft industry in the USA. It has completely vanished. No smaller-than-huge company can survive a law suit anymore. Just one stupid "cat in the oven" suit can completely ruin a company and deter all the others in the field. In the end, it is only the big companies that survive.
  • .. Apple has been also doing its share of patent trolling, eh? Granted, they do produce some pretty functional and shiny hardware, fully plug and play, but they are not saints and they do employ armies of lawyers for the sole purpose of "Sued you! Now your shit is mine!"

    Zoom out a little bit, and both of them (Apple and Personal Audio LLC) seem like trolls fighting over something that is not theirs. Playlists? Seriously?

    • by v1 (525388)

      The generally accepted definition of "patent troll" is a company that doesn't produce any products and whose revenue is entirely from licensing and litigation. You may not like what companies like Sony and Apple do with their patents, but they are not patent trolls.

      • by zarthrag (650912)
        ...once you make a product, it's more like a "legalized racketeering". e.g. MS is busy hitting-up android phone makers with licensing deals/royalties for every device made. But if the license windows phone, they will give you a break... That's *so* much better ^_^ The new patent war will let big companies trade blows, and keep new competitors from emerging by making sure that you can't cross the street without "infringing" upon something (or at least being accused of it). If you can't afford to fight t
    • Nullsoft should sue them both. I was making playlists in WinAmp before OSX even existed, much less the iPod.

  • 8 million down... countless billions left.
    • Aren't most of /. solidly against "just the cost of doing business" payments as punishment?

      Or (since this is a stupid patent, like most software patents are) paying off extortionists and trolls?

  • I can't remember the term for it, but isn't there a patent defence if the patent holder intentionally delays attempting to enforce a patent to maximise damages that invalidates the patent?

    Given the patent was filed in 1996, and this sort of functionality started to appear in audio apps in early 2000, it would seem like a prime candidate for this defence...

    • I can't remember the term for it, but isn't there a patent defence if the patent holder intentionally delays attempting to enforce a patent to maximise damages that invalidates the patent?

      No, you're only prevented from receiving damages for the time after you became aware of the infringement. If your patent is granted in 2000, someone starts infringing that patent in 2002, you become aware of the infringement in 2004, and you file a lawsuit in 2011, you're only entitled to damages for 2002-2004.

      • Seems like a lot of people would try to play games with the date of first awareness. Perhaps by terming it "suspicion" in 2004 but requiring a lengthy (and expensive, of course) legal review before the infringement could be confirmed. Thus they don't become "aware" of the infringement until, say, 2009 in your example, for an extra five years of damages.

        How could they justify that? "Your honor, we were simply doing all necessary due diligence to ensure that we were not bringing a frivolous lawsuit befor
    • by Builder (103701)

      You're probably thinking of the doctrine of laches. I've never heard of it being successfully used though.

  • patent law is killing infotech innovation. i recommend folks check out Connections, a wonderful television series from PBS where the lineage of one invention to the next is traced, sometimes in surprising ways. lawyers suck, but patent lawyers are especially damn-worthy.

  • Juries in East Texas frequently rule in favor of patent holders.

    Juries frequently rule in favor of the plaintiff.

    You could say the same for any case that goes to a jury verdict.

    If you can't persuade a judge that you have a factual argument worth presenting to a jury you have no business being in a trial court.

  • Why don't they just make it so if you have a patent but no product on the market using the patent, then you can't prosecute someone that gets to market first with it? Give them a period of 1 year buffer to get to market over their competitors to secure the patent.
  • I was just wondering something. If you specifically were to put terms in your EULA that prohibits the use of the software if you are in East Texas, would you then be able to (most likely) successfully argue that East Texas is not the appropriate venue if you are sued for patent infringement?

  • The patent was filed in 1995, long before iTunes et al. existed, before most people even knew what an MP3 was.

    The patent is truly innovative (for 1995).

    The fact that it's only being enforced now doesn't necessarily mean they're patent trolls. It probably means that the patent sat forgotten in some large portfolio, unused for a long time, until these guys bought up a bundle for cheap and re-discovered this one.
    • The patent isn't really very innovative. Most of what's covered in the first patent is simply the exact same control scheme available on CD players at that time (skip forward, back, change the order of tracks) except with digital audio files on a computer. I don't know if it should fail for prior art, but it should definitely fail for obviousness. Even worse is the fact that they're not really patenting a particular invention, they're patenting the very idea of skipping forwards and backwards in a list o

  • Do any of them suddenly have new cars, bass boats, or houses that seem rather beyond their incomes? HAS ANYONE LOOKED? Hell, I'd be curious if the area around this cash register in the form of a federal courthouse is seeing an inexplicable boom in new residents.
  • Rule in favor of the troll, and award $1 in damages. Since they won, they can't appeal the verdict, and the loser will gladly pay $1 to be done with it. Do that a few times, and the patent trolls will find it's not a viable business model anymore.

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