Patent Law

Adam Carolla Settles with the Patent Trolls

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Comedian and podcaster Adam Carolla has settled with Personal Audio, the so-called "patent troll" that sued him for infringing on its intellectual property.

Personal Audio claimed that The Adam Carolla Show and, by extension, every other podcast violated its patent on episodic content "in which a host system organizes and transmits program segments to client subscriber locations." While many targets of patent trolls find it easier and less risky to settle, Carolla tapped into his large audience and fought back with the money raised through his "Save Our Podcasts" fund. Reason TV talked with Carolla earlier this summer about his legal battle, and he had this to say (full video interview below):

"We sort of felt like, well, it'd be nice for our podcasting brothers not to give them 'X' amount of dollars… When terrorists take hostages, if you start negotiating with them, they just start taking more camera crews. We just figured we'd save the next camera crew. We'll take the duct tape and the zip ties."

While the terms of the settlement prohibit Carolla or Personal Audio from discussing the case until September 30, 2014, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which will continue to pursue its own lawsuit against Personal Audio, speculates that Carolla did not have to pay out anything to Personal Audio. As evidence, they point to the fact that Personal Audio only weeks ago put out press releases essentially begging Carolla to drop the matter altogether.

EFF breaks down Carolla's decision to settle into "the good, the bad, and the ugly": The good being that Carolla has made the business of suing podcasters seem a bit less lucrative and the bad being that settling fails to invalidate the patent altogether. As for the ugly, EFF writes:

The most disappointing aspect of today's settlement is how unsurprising it is. Almost every defendant, no matter how strong their case, ends up settling with the patent troll. Litigating patent cases is extraordinarily expensive. Carolla raised almost half a million dollars and that still would not have been enough to fund a defense through trial.

Trolls know this and use the cost of defense to extort settlements. In the rare case where someone shows a willingness to fight to the end, the troll will often save its patent at the last moment with a walk-away deal.

Until Congress quits ignoring software patent reform, the expensive burden to fight off frivolous claims will remain on the shoulders of entrepreneurs like Carolla, or software developer Austin Meyer, profiled in the video below. But on that front, Carolla is decidely pessimistic. During his interview with Reason TV, he recounted this story from his trip to Washington, D.C. to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

"I got a call about an hour later that said, '[Sen. Patrick] Leahy shot it down,'" says Carolla (4:23). "Leahy, and the Democrats—even though this is a bipartisan thing—are just in the back pocket of the trial lawyers' association… But because Leahy's a hero, he did explain that it's very important. Because, you know, all those things that are super important, you're not going to get to for another year or two. Like when your doctor says, 'This is really important,' and you say, 'Ok, see you in a year!'"

"It gave me renewed hope in the system and how one man could make a difference. Oh wait… it was a total waste of time."