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Sunday, February 5, 2023

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U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today that total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 678,000. The unemployment rate edged down to 3.8 percent The employment number exceeded forecasts The...

Video download patent lawsuits filed

The New York Times has an article today about a former startup, Intertainer, that holds nine patents related to video downloads. The company has brought suits against Apple, Google, and Naptser to force them to take out licenses for the patents. I haven’t looked into the patents, but I can see a dispute like this happening. Why? Because a handful of companies are beginning to break out in providing video downloads and as a result they become targets for those who tried earlier and sought “early-mover” protection via patents.

What really caught my attention in the article though, was the first paragraph:

“In 1997, Jonathan T. Taplin, a veteran film and television producer, stood up at a cable industry convention and asserted that in the future all movies would be distributed over the Internet. He recalls being laughed out of the room.”

Laughed at? Really? Maybe they didn’t think the technology was there yet, but really, did they not see it happening?

Here’s why I’m skeptical of this: During that same year, 1997, I worked on a network management system for a satellite modem company and this was one of the several scenarios we were working on. I didn’t attend any of the meetings with the content providers, but if I remember correctly Lucas Films was very eager to digitally distribute their movies. So was Disney. And I’m sure there were others. They were looking at all different ways to do it. Dedicated systems. Internet systems. You name it.

I do remember that most people considered the idea just ahead of its time, not necessarily because the technology couldn’t be built, but rather the practicalities weren’t there. Meaning the cost would be too high at the time. I think everyone agreed that the day of digital distribution of video was coming down the road.

Anyway, I imagine Mr. Taplin could have felt rejected at the time because maybe the cable companies weren’t ready to put money into his video distribution idea or they saw it as competition that they wanted to misdirect, but believe me they weren’t laughing. That’s silly.

Update: Don Dodge questions the validity of this patent too: “Did Intertainer invent video distribution on the Internet? No way. Real Networks, and others, were doing it long before Intertainer. But the US Patent office gave them a patent and now real companies must spend time and money defending themselves and fighting against a patent that never should have been issued.”

Likewise, Mike from TechDirt worked on a similar project that he thinks puts the patent(s) in doubt: ” I worked for a company in 1998 and 1999 that did many of the things described in the patent, and we were far from cutting edge at the time.”

I have no idea if the patents are valid or not, but it looks like there’s quite a bit of concern. One thing most people seem to agree upon: The US patent system needs reform.

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