Patent Holders Strike Again

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Last week brought us two patent troll stories.

Do you remember Lycos? It was sort of the proto-Google, and was, for a time in the late 90's, the most visited site on the web. Those days are now long gone, but patents that were once owned by Lycos are now being used to force Google to fork over a hefty chunk  of its revenue.

Ars Technica reports that a company called Viringo bought some patents from Lycos and promptly turned around and sued Google over them. Last Tuesday, and judge awarded Viringo 1.36% of Google's AdWords program. While that amount may seem pretty small, AdWords is where Google gets most of its revenue. According to a 2012 study, Google brings in more than $100 million a day through AdWords.

Google will, of course, appeal, and it is only liable from 2012 until the patents expire in 2016. But if Google loses, the company is potentially on the hook for more than a billion dollars.

Meanwhile, in the world of podcasting, there is a patent holder called Personal Audio that claims to own the technology upon which all podcasts are based, even though Personal Audio itself doesn't make podcasts at all. In fact, Personal Audio's patent was registered by a guy who was sending out audio cassettes that he made in the 90's.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation started a "save podcasting" fundraiser and have worked to make a case to the US patent office that Personal Audio's podcasting patent should be invalidated. But last week, Personal Audio retaliated by subpoenaing the names of everyone who donated to the EFF's save podcasting fundraiser

It's hard to look at this as anything other than an intimidation tactic, because it's unclear how donors are in any way relevant to the case, and the EFF is fighting to keep the information from making it to Personal Audio.

There is a patent reform bill which passed the house in December that would likely address the podcasting patent, but probably wouldn't have made any material difference in the Google case.