A patent troll is out to kill off podcasting, or at a minimum critically wound it. This troll does have a patent on the whole podcasting process, despite the fact they have not contributed one line of code to the process or even a single idea used in podcasting. But they have a patent and they are going to suck as much money from podcasters as possible.
That they were granted this patent in February 2012 just goes to show how broken the patent system is. They have already started suing podcasters in the Eastern District court of Texas - where all patent trolls go to do their evil deeds. They also started sending out letters to individual podcasters looking to extort license fees. If you listen to podcasts it is likely at some time in the near future one or more of the podcasts you listen to will be hit with one of these extortion letters. There is actually a really good chance one of the podcasts you listen to already has -- four podcasts I listen to on a regular basis already have been sent these letters.
The podcasters that get these letters have 3 options.
1. Ignore the letters and hope for the best.
2. Contact the troll and agree to pay a license fee for the patent (even though the podcasters don't use the technology covered by the patent).
3. Fight the troll in court.
Well actually there is a 4th option -- shut down the podcast and delete all files and hope they go away. But even if podcasters do that the patent trolls could still try to extort money retroactively. But at least podcasters would not be out more money. Sadly many may choose this option.
Regarding option 3: If someone does fight the troll and wins - all that means is the winner does not have to pay the license fee to the patent troll. However the "winner" is still out all the lawyers fees they spent to fight a bogus patent.
Thus given the choice of paying around a thousand dollars a year (I have no knowledge of what the patent troll in this case is asking for -- that number is just similar to what some other patent trolls have asked for) or paying over $250,000 or even a $1,000,000 in legal fees -- game theory dictates you choose paying the license fee. The patent trolls know this and that is why their extortion racket works.
But now there is a real chance to change things. The SHIELD Act (H.R. 845) was just introduced into the House by Congressmen Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). This bill would put the financial liability on the patent rolls if they loose. If the SHIELD Act is passed into law and you fight a patent troll and win -- the patent troll is responsible to pay all of your legal bills.
The EFF is strongly in favor of this bill and has set up a page to help you take action. Once there put in your Zip Code. It will then give you the names and phone numbers of your representatives in Congress and allow you to send an email to them. In addition to sending an email -- what is really important is to call your congressperson's office -- give them your name tell them you are from their district and you want your congressperson to support this bill.
This bill is definitely not a Republican or a Democrat Bill - nor is this a podcasting bill - this is at its heart an anti-patent troll bill. Patent Trolls are attacking Wifi at coffee shops, Scanning documents at small businesses, and now podcasting. They must be stopped and you have a chance right now to help out.
I hope some day when the whole sad story of Patent Trolls is finally written - the turning point will be when they went after Podcasters and the Podcast listeners helped get the SHIELD Act passed into Law.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects