Unicast Lands Patents, Promises “Action”

Rich media advertising firm Unicast is signaling its intent to pursue legal action after receiving two patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that protect procedures it uses in delivering its Superstitial interstitial ads.

The New York-based firm now owns U.S. Patent No. 6,317,761, “Polite Ad Delivery,” which covers the process of precaching a rich media ad. Unicast’s Superstial is preloaded while a user views a Web page; the ad appears only after the user clicks on a link, thereby eliminating the time needed for the ad to download before viewing, and not otherwise hindering the user’s surfing experience.

Unicast’s second patent, No. 6,314,451, covers the method of serving Internet ads using HTML code that, when downloaded by a Web browser, can be used to begin downloading dynamically-produced content.

“We are pleased that Unicast has received formal recognition for the invention of some of the key processes vital to the seamless delivery of effective online advertising,” said Unicast chairman and chief executive Dick Hopple. “Unicast is a leading innovator in the online advertising industry. As a company, we are dedicated to providing advertisers and Web sites with the most effective and reliable online advertising formats in the marketplace. These patents will help Unicast to further the efficiency and standardization of the online advertising processes (and thus formats) upon which the Internet economy have come to rely.”

The new patent awards aren’t without controversy. The issue lies in the fact that while Unicast uses the method covered in No. 6,314,415 to begin precaching an ad, the major players in Web serving technology also use similar technology for their own rich media ads.

According to its application, Patent No. 6,314,451 protects an “ad controller for use in implementing user-transparent network-distributed advertising and for interstitially displaying an advertisement so distributed.”

The document specifies the use of an HTML tag that, when downloaded by a browser, launches a JavaScript application based on Unicast’s servers. That script delivers the appropriate ad to the user’s system, and caches it for later play. By using this process, site operators don’t need to update their pages every time creatives or campaigns are changed — that part is handled remotely, by Unicast.

What, if anything, Unicast intends to gain out of the patents remains a secret. Typically, patent wins can be used to eke licensing revenues out of others — as seen by the series of lawsuits in the online couponing space stemming from CoolSavings’ patent.

Allie Shaw, Unicast’s vice president of marketing, said the firm was already looking into potential infringement on the patent, adding that she was “confident there are several companies in several categories that might be in violation.” She added that the company could launch some form of protective action within one to two months.

“We’re investigating all the potential violators of this process, as well as a lot of the potential scenarios that would warrant someone being in violation,” said Shaw, who declined to single out any potential targets. “Any company that’s … delivering ads interstitially are certainly the top priority of companies to look at.”

In addition to rich media interstitial rivals like Net-Mercial, a host of network advertising companies have similar setups in place. For one, DoubleClick recently announced that it had completed the re-tagging of its network sites with similar HTML code, which downloads rich media from DoubleClick’s servers (or those of a technology vendor) when loaded in a Web browser.

Those rich media ad formats can include interstitial units, including productized formats such as the Superstitial.

However, Shaw said the company generally was not looking at the ad networks as potential sources infringement. Instead, it’s focusing on sellers of other types of ad units in an effort to “clean up” and standardize the industry’s rich media ad formats.

“While networks and sites use this process … there are a lot of companies that we believe use this process that we feel are more important to investigate, that we believe create more harm than good — that don’t do anything to meet any advertiser demand,” she said. “Our goal is really to clear the clutter and standardize the industry.”

“We’re interested in bringing this medium to a place where it can aggressively compete against other media, like television, for ad dollars,” Shaw added. Media buyers “don’t truly look at its potential they way they look at other media, because it’s still immature. I would rather see these patents work to standardize the industry rather than increase format clutter just because we can generate licensing fees.”

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