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VoloMedia, a maker of ad-serving technology for downloaded media, has been granted a U.S. patent for podcasting, prompting a number of technologists to question the company's claims to the widely used Web technology.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Patent 7,568,213, entitled "Method for Providing Episodic Media," this week. VoloMedia applied for the patent in November 2003, which the company claimed was nearly a year before the start of podcasting.
Podcasts are frequently updated audio and video content that are sent to a computing device using a Web feed format called Really Simple Syndication, or RSS. Podcasting is used to publish blog entries, news headlines, financial updates and more.
The legitimacy of VoloMedia's patent has been questioned by Dave Winer, credited with pioneering the development of blogs, RSS and podcasting. "I'm certainly not a lawyer or an expert in patent law, but it seems the work Adam Curry and I did in creating the format and protocol for podcasting, in 2001, may have inspired their 'invention,'" Winer wrote in his blog. "It certainly predates it."
Adam Curry is a broadcasting and Internet personality who was one of the first celebrities to create and administer a personal Web site. He is also credited as a podcast pioneer.
The company Winer founded, Userland Software, launched Radio UserLand in 2003, which combined blogging, RSS-reading, and podcasting software. And in July 2003, Winer says he helped journalist Christopher Lydon publish a series of podcast interviews with new bloggers of the day.
"All that happened before VoloMedia filed their patent application. Or so it seems," Winer said.
The time is important because if a patent is challenged in court, the holder must prove that his invention was not done before by someone else.
Blogger Frederic Lardinois of ReadWriteWeb points out that VoloMedia Chief Executive Murgesh Navar argues that in November 2003, it wasn't obvious that downloadable episodic content would prove popular. "Given that Dave Winer first met with Adam Curry to discuss the concept in December 2000, however, we really have to wonder if this claim would hold up under greater scrutiny," Lardinois said.
VoloMedia plans to use its patent against providers of all technology for distributing "episodic media," not just podcasts. "Today, podcasting is 100% RSS-based," Navar said in the company's blog. "However, the patent is not RSS-dependent. Rather, it covers all episodic media downloads."
Navar, however, says the company is not looking for a fight with podcasters today or in the future. "VoloMedia's intent is to continue to work collaboratively with key participants in the industry, leveraging its unique range of products to further grow and accelerate the market," he said.
VoloMedia, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., was awarded the patent only weeks after it laid off its sales team after failing to raise a new round of funding and Silicon Valley Bank called in a bridge loan, NewTeeVee, a technology site that's part of online publishing company the GigaOM Network, reported.
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