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Yet another company has started making the patent litigation rounds claiming to have patented some baseline part of everyday technology. This time it's the idea of a playlist, and Premier International Associates is the lucky corporation. Premier has sued a 19 companies, including media software producers like Microsoft and Real, and Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, manufacturers of Windows-compatible hardware on which the allegedly infringing software runs.
The two patents, issued in 2001 and 2004, protect Premier's “list building system,” which collects “a plurality of works... in a list for purposes of establishing a play or a presentation sequence” and displays that list in a visual form. Basically, the patent protects a playlist, a standard part of media programs that's been in use since well before Premier claims to have invented it. Since patents are only valid if the invention they protect is novel and nonobvious, the targets of Premier's lawsuit onslaught shouldn't have too hard a time invalidating them. (According to Wikipedia, Winamp was first released in 1996, so there's prior art right there.)
Bringing an obviously spurious lawsuit in order to drive your competitors out of the market can be a violation of the Sherman Act, the federal antitrust statute. To use the lawsuit itself as an antitrust violation, however, the suit must be a “sham” that no reasonable plaintiff would expect to win on the merits. Premier does hold the patents it's alleging are infringed here, so I wonder if that fact alone is sufficient to immunize it from a Sherman Act action. Should a reasonable patent holder know that its patents are unenforceable? Or does having the patents suffice to give it an objectively reasonable basis for its lawsuit?
Thumbnail photo courtesy of GIRLintheCAFE.