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Second Look by PTO Could Be Good News for Broadcasters

Paul McLane is U.S. editor in chief.

When the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office decidedto take another look at those radio automation patents involved in a big lawsuit, as RW reported, I knew it was a bad development for Mission Abstract Data’s case.

Attorney Kevin Goldberg feels the same way, and mulled about it in the blog of law firm Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth. He posted on Sept. 15 but I didn’t see it at the time because I was wrapped up in business at the fall Radio Show, as perhaps you were too.

Mission Abstract Data — the mysterious entity that owns patents issued in the 1990s to Robert Goldman — thinks the hard disk-type automation systems used widely in U.S. radio broadcasting violate its intellectual property. The company has sued a batch of big-name broadcasters (though notably not Clear Channel), and it has been pursuing licensing fees by contacting others directly.

“More recently, we understand that yet a third round of broadcasters have lately been receiving similar come-ons from MAD,” Goldberg of Fletcher Heald writes. He said this group includes smaller broadcasters and single-station owners. “While no overt threats of new lawsuits have been made in these latest contacts (as far as we’ve heard), it’s not too hard to get the impression that declining the offer of a licensing agreement could get you a seat at the defendant’s table if another round of lawsuits gets filed,” he continued.

“Best I can tell, none of the ‘second round’ broadcasters have signed the proffered licensing agreement.” Nor has Radio World heard of any. And Goldberg points out that lack of any announcement suggests there have been none, since it presumably would help MAD’s case to publicize any agreements.

Goldberg feels the PTO’s decision to take another look moves things “toward an authoritative resolution” of the patents’ validity. Noting that he is not a patent expert, he said he’s not in an opinion to predict the outcome; but he speculated that a PTO reversal would likely be bad for MAD.

The fact the Patent Office is taking another look suggests that it has serious questions about the validity of the patents, he wrote. “If those questions go the wrong way for MAD, the patents could get invalidated. And that would almost certainly put an end to the lawsuit … I’m guessing that many of the second and third groups of broadcasters will be way less enthusiastic about signing the licensing agreements currently sitting on their desks, while the defendants in the lawsuit will view settlement with similar skepticism.”

Goldberg said any station contacted by MAD should not just ignore it but contact its own attorney. And, I might add, tell Radio World about it so we can report on the development.

Meanwhile, Mission Abstract Data and its attorneys have declined comment each time Radio World has attempted to contact them for more on their side of the story.