What a patent for podcasts means

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Kai Ryssdal: Up next, the humble podcast. We do it. A lot of other programs do it. A lot of audio and video producers that aren't actual programs do it. In part because it's just so easy. Producers create the file. Consumers click download, and boom it's done. The process behind those podcasts, though, is protected intellectual property. This week a small company called VoloMedia was awarded the patent for podcasting. Which is where I say: cue the lawyers. From New York, Jill Barshay reports.

JILL BARSHAY: Volomedia's founder Murgesh Navar wants podcasters to know he has no plans to shake them down.

MURGESH Navar: Clearly, I can tell you categorically we are not trying to stop anybody from creating a podcast or distributing a podcast. That is not our intent or our motivation or even in our selfish interest to do that.

Just as well says Ernest Grumbles. He's an intellectual property attorney at Merchant & Gould. And he's also an avid podcaster.

Grumbles says VoloMedia might have trouble defending its patent in court, especially since early podcasting predates VoloMedia's 2003 patent filing.

ERNEST Grumbles: I think it's absurd. Given how many things are encompassed within podcasting. For anybody to claim they have the patent on podcasting, I think is probably ludicrous.

Right now VoloMedia makes money by inserting ads into podcasts for clients like FOX and ABC. Navar says he'll use the patent as a selling point to build alliances with advertisers.

Navar: We acknowledge we have power because of the patent, but we expect to use that power, along with our product and technologies to grow the marketplace.

A patent can be a powerful thing. Attorney Grumbles says VoloMedia's competitors fear that it might use its new patent to bully them.

Grumbles: People who may have declined to do business with them might feel pressure to get into business with Volomedia, frankly, to avoid future patent litigation.

VoloMedia's assuring everyone it talks to that it's not a threat. But podcasters worry the temptation to abuse the patent might be too much to resist.

I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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Might be time to rename them to Netcasts like Leo Laporte said 3 years ago. And distribute them via PDF's or some other way.

Might be time to rename them to Netcasts like Leo Laporte said 3 years ago. And distribute them via PDF's or some other way.

This only encourages more greed and legal wrangling. Companies might see this as a "land grab" to place patents on other popular trends or activities. Perhaps the right thing for VoloMedia to do is take the patent, but then hand it over to the public as a way to protect it as an "open" medium.

The US Patent Office shows again how out of touch it is and that it is stifling rather than encouraging innovation. There is prior art on about all aspects of VoloMedia's patent going back to 1993. The rest doesn't pass the most basic obviousness test. They say they don't want to be patent trolls. Yeah, sure. If that's true, why didn't they withdraw their patent application when it became clear that they were just the first to file a patent on what everyone was already doing? There is a big difference between inventing something and claiming someone else's work is your own.

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