Adobe, Level 3 drive a stake through heart of vid-stream creature before it attacks again

Patent used to launch legal fights ruled 'unpatentable'

The US Patent and Trademark Office has torn up parts of a video-streaming technology patent used against Adobe and Level 3 Communications in a patent-infringement legal scrap.

The office's Patent Trial and Appeal Board has invalidated chunks of patent 5,995,091, which describes a "system and method for streaming multimedia data." Owned by Afluo, the patent loosely outlines the concept of playing video and sound from one computer to another:

A multimedia system and method for providing consistent playback performance across a variety of playback system and network configurations. The multimedia system and method includes an authoring tool element, an interleaver element, and a playback interpreter element.

Adobe and Level 3 were accused by Afluo of building or shipping technology that infringed the patent. The pair managed to see off their accuser, and sought to put a final bullet in the '091 patent.

They asked the patent appeal board to review the designs, and now a panel of three administrative judges [decision paper 27, 30 PDF] have ruled four parts of the patent are invalid – making it rather difficult for Afluo to pursue further litigation with the patent.

Specifically, "claims 1, 4, 5, and 8 of the ’091 patent are unpatentable," the beaks wrote in their judgment, dated April 9 but published today. Those sections of Afluo's design describe:

  • "a computer-implemented method for generating a multimedia presentation data stream."
  • "a computer-implemented method for regenerating a replayable multimedia presentation data stream generated from a list of data elements representing images and sounds."
  • "a computer-implemented method for reproducing a multimedia presentation from a playback data stream at run-time."

Afluo sued Flash-maker Adobe and backbone providers Level 3 Communications and Akamai in 2012, alleging infringement of the patent by Adobe's Flash Media Server and Streaming Media Server as well as the backbone networks supporting the platform.

A jury sided in favor of Adobe and co, and the civil case was closed in September of last year. This latest USPTO ruling goes a step further, invalidating the Afluo claims made in the case on the grounds that the patent was not novel when it was filed in 1996 and approved in 1999 – technology existed at the time that could stream media over the internet and networks.

Adobe has been a frequent target, and opponent, of patent-infringement accusations. Last year, the California giant's general counsel Mike Dillon bemoaned the state of the patent system, suggesting that action is needed to take away the economic incentive to file frivolous patent claims.

"What’s notable about the patent-troll problem is that these entities seldom win their lawsuits," Dillon wrote.

"But their business model isn’t predicated on going to trial; instead, it is dependent on casting as wide a net as possible knowing that some percentage of companies will pay a license fee rather than incur the cost of litigation." ®

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