Not long after one “patent troll” took a bite out of Apple in court in September, another filed suit against 14 media companies for allegedly infringing on its Web autoplay technology, even though the original patent was for television and doesn’t mention the Internet or Web video players.
According to Ars Technica, Michigan-based inventors Barry Schwab and John Posa filed US Patent No. 7, 917,922 in 1997, claiming “a method of automatically changing from a first TV program to an alternate TV program.” The patent was granted in 2011 after extensive exchanges with the patent office.
The patent rights were later transferred to Bartonfalls LLC — a shell company out of East Texas, the “patent hot spot.” Bartonfalls claims 14 companies are infringing on its patent because when a viewer of one of the companies’ websites finishes watching an online video, the autoplay feature kicks in and cues up another video for viewing directly after.
The companies being sued include: Ziff Davis (owners of PC Magazine), Viacom, Advance Publications (owners of Condé Nast, which owns GQ Magazine, which has the website in question), Scripps Networks (HGTV), Bloomberg, Allrecipes.com, NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting, The New York Times Company, Forbes, ABC, Discovery, CBS and Consumers Union (Consumer Reports).
Ars makes the point, due to new case law like the Alice Corp. precedent and Octane Fitness that favors patent defendants, it’s unusual for a “non-practicing entity” like Bartonfalls to go after large companies with a broad Web patent. And the potential impact is also significant.
“If Bartonfalls convinces courts it ‘owns’ this feature, the number of video-makers it could sue is endless.”
For example, YouTube, which also has an autoplay feature and is “the biggest online video company of all,” could be next.