Spotify, SoundCloud, Deezer Sued By Patent Troll
Guest post by Mike Masnick of Techdirt
Another day, another story of another patent troll. This one is about MOAEC Technologies LLC, a "patent licensing" company that exists solely around four related patents for a "music organizer and entertainment center." Last month, MOAEC sued Spotify, SoundCloud and Deezer over these patents. It's interesting that the lawsuit came just a few weeks before Spotify's IPO, as we've seen a bunch of companies sued for patent infringement right before their IPOs — but it didn't prevent Spotify's IPO from happening.
All three lawsuits focus on US Patent 6,232,539, which is described this way:
A music organizer and entertainment center provides a center having a microprocessor, sound card functions and high-volume data storage and retrieval units for playing back music according to a variety of predetermined categories. Music can be played back in random form or can be played back according to a particular pre-selected order. The categories are provided by service provider who delivers selected titles and/or songs to the end user. The songs are typically loaded using a custom CD-ROM provided from the service provider. The music is provided in data-compressed form and is decompressed and processed through a sound card during playback. The categories can include a variety of parameters such as title, artists, date, speed, dance characteristics, subjective energy level and music style, such as easy-listening, upbeat, etc.
Digging into the actual claims, the real focus here appears to be on the ability to select "a category" of music:
a graphical user interface display having a plurality of selectable screens, at least one of the selectable screens including a plurality of category buttons constructed and arranged so that when a predetermined of the category buttons is activated, music selections having category flags matching the predetermined category of a respective of the buttons are selected and listed on the display.
Everything else in the patent appears to just be around playing music. But it's difficult to see how this even remotely passes the Alice test for a generic computer function. The nearly identical filings try to insist that this patent revolves around some magical invention:
The claims of the ’539 Patent do not merely recite the performance of some business practice known from the pre-Internet world along with a requirement to perform it on the Internet. Instead, the claims of the ’539 patent recite one or more inventive concepts that are rooted in computerized electronic data communications networks, and an improved method to deliver content and provide interface among different accounts and computing systems.
The claims of the ’539 patent recite an invention that is not merely the routine or conventional use of electronic devices for music playback. Instead, among other things, the invention adds new features to deliver content, integrate application interfaces and other protocols together on shared networks. The ’539 patent claims thus include improvements for, for example, storing music information in association with a set of predetermined flags, including an ownership category flag, and permitting user-customizable playback of music, based in part on the flags.
Accordingly, each claim of the ’539 patent recites a combination of elements sufficient to ensure that the claim in practice amounts to significantly more than a patent on an ineligible concept.
Of course everything described above was not limited due to the lack of ideas to be able to do any of this, but just the lack of ready general purpose computing equipment. In other words, there's nothing unique or non-obvious is the patents. The reason we didn't have this earlier was that the underlying technology wasn't ready for it, which is part of what should invalidate these patents under Alice.
That is… if these companies actually fight the lawsuits. As always, it is often easier and cheaper to settle a patent lawsuit than to fight it, even if you would win. Though, settling will only attract more of these kinds of nuisance lawsuits.