RealNetworks Looks To Squash ‘Trolls’

Score one for the big guys.

After watching Microsoft, Research in Motion (RIM), and eBay lose millions to smaller companies in settlements over patent lawsuits, RealNetworks was happy to announce a patent on its “Click-to-Stream” technology.

The company said the patent covers the method Real uses to synchronize audio or video with meta data when consumers select links to stream media via web browsers and other media players.

RealNetworks vice president of technology Jeff Ayars told the filing was largely a defensive measure against so-called patent trolls.

“Patent Trolls,” Ayars said, “don’t have any business value. Their only business is extorting you. That’s difficult for a growing business to deal with.”

Though not reached for comment, spokespersons at RIM, eBay, and Microsoft would likely agree.

In March, Blackberry device-maker RIM settled with a company called NTP for $612.5 million over alleged patent infringements.

Courts twice ruled in favor of small company MercExchange against eBay, saying the Internet auction giant infringed patents with its “Buy it Now” feature.

In 2005, Microsoft paid $41 million to settle a lawsuit with

In each case, the defendants used similar language to describe their accusers as nothing more than patent trolls: companies hoarding intellectual property, not developing it, then suing those that do. CEO Richard Lang has heard it all before. “It does sound familiar,” he told

Lang’s company is in the middle of a patent lawsuit with Apple Computer over technology that helps a customer to download a movie or a song in less time than it would take to play that video or song. He does not claim that RealNetworks infringes on his company’s patented technologies.

But he doesn’t mind sticking up for the little guys and said he’s not surprised to see RealNetworks working hard to suddenly patent its innovations.

“The large technology companies claim to be victims of little inventors,” Lang said. “But at the same time they’re claiming that abuse, they’re out filing thousands and thousands of patents on items that are questionable, at best.”

Lang pointed out that this version of the RealNetworks patent was first filed seven years ago in 1999.

“Without presuming to know what happened between Real and the patent office, my guess is that based on how long it took, [Real] faced a number of rejections from the patent office.”

RealNetworks’s Ayar said the patent is written in very specific language to differentiate it from the many other streaming media technologies already patented.

“We wouldn’t have been able to get the patent if it was just streaming audio,” he said.

But Ayar said that doesn’t mean his company wasn’t a streaming media innovator.

“As soon as we had a good idea we went with a product and launched it,” he said. “People made copy products. But that’s why there’s the whole idea of the patent office.”

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