May 31, 2013

When Patents Attack... Part Two!

Two years ago, we did a program about a mysterious business in Texas that threatens companies with lawsuits for violating its patents. But the world of patent lawsuits is so secretive, there were basic questions we could not answer. Now we can. And we get a glimpse why people say our patent system may be discouraging, not encouraging, innovation.


Host Ira Glass and Zoe Chace from NPR’s Planet Money talk with Jim Logan and Richard Baker of Personal Audio, which claims it holds a patent used by all podcasters. Podcasters, they say, owe them money. Only catch: their company never made a digital podcast or invented a way to download it into a listening device. What they did, back in 1996: they patented the idea that such a thing can be done. Now they’ve asked podcasters to pay them licensing fees ... including Adam Carolla, Stuff You Should Know, Jesse Thorn and Marc Maron, who we hear from. Although Personal Audio says they aren’t asking for licenses from non-profits or public radio at this time, Maron’s and Thorn’s podcasts appear on public radio. (7 minutes)

Act One


NPR reporter Laura Sydell and This American Life producer/Planet Money co-host Alex Blumberg tell the story of Intellectual Ventures, which is accused of being the largest of the patent trolls. Executives at Intellectual Ventures insist they are not trolls, but rather, promoters of innovation. They buy patents from struggling inventors, which encourages those inventors to go out and invent more stuff. Intellectual Ventures offers an example of such an inventor, a man named Chris Crawford. But when Laura and Alex try and talk to Chris Crawford, it leads them on a long search, culminating in a small town in Texas, where they find a hallway full of seemingly empty offices with no employees. (25 minutes)