Premier Pretends to Patent Playlists

Premier Pretends to Patent Playlists

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.

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D Waterhouse

A reasonable patent holder shouldn't have to decide if his patents are enforceable or not. The patent never should have been issued in the first place. So they are immune to a Sherman action, but they will obviously (or rather, hopefully) not get any money for their stupid claim. It's a list!

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MantaBase

Actually, and Erin or Chams (Other Legal MPC Persona) may correct me, the perspective patent candidate does have some obligation to investigate - or have investigated their claim. Just because you have a patent doesn't mean it is enforcible. The patent is a "claim" that you have a right to produce (or not produce) something exclusively because you came up with it and it's unique, novel or produces an unexpected/un-obvious result (I'm not a lawyer - there are actual terms for that stuff). The patent office may check to see if another patent is already in place, but they do not check for prior art, per se - That's your job, not their's.

If you fail to do "your job", the "claim" may go into effect, but be unenforcible.

Unlike other laws, it is the patent holder's job to "enforce the claim". And, you don't know if the claim is actually enforcible until you take it to court - well, officially anyways.

So, there are a number of patents that may be non-enforcible. Using one to threaten someone could be a violation of the Sherman Act if in fact it is a non-enforcible claim.

There is a lot of catch 22 in there - and I'm no lawyer - but that's my take. I would love to be educated on it.....but these legal gurus never answer my blog comments - lol

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Talcum X

This is like having a patent on the T-Shirt. Everyone makes one and nobody has a problem with it. Every 'player' out there has a playlist of a sort, and nobody else had a problem with it. It's a basic feature that everyone expects to have. It sounds frivilous, but hey, it's the 'screw on to others before they screw on to you' age we live in.

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