It’s true that the headline of VoloMedia’s press release boldly claimed ‘VoloMedia Awarded U.S. Patent for Podcasting.’ And with a headline like that, you can scarcely blame podcasters for responding with anxiety, distress, and outrage. The many commenters on the announcement in Podcasting News seem determined to prove that Volo did not invent podcasting and to condemn the company as a “patent troll” in search of money via lawsuits and licensing fees.
VoloMedia founder Murgesh Navar’s first blog post explained the reasoning behind the patent, but entirely failed to answer the question in every independent podcaster’s mind: ‘Are they expecting podcasters to pay them for the right to go on producing podcasts?’
My own examination of the patent in the USPTO database suggested that the patent actually had nothing to do with the production of podcasts, but rather with the reception of podcasts. Take a look at this abstract:
A personalized media service provides, e.g., user customization of radio channel selections, immediate availability of multiple preprogrammed and/or customized channels, the ability to intersperse different types of content including periodically refreshed information content, availability of personal radio functions on devices such as car audio systems, PDAs, smartphones, MP3 players, etc. Available channels include, e.g., pre-programmed channels selected for the user based on an interest profile, user-owned content, user-specified recorded content, etc. An audio user interface facilitates user selection of programming and user purchase of currently played audio material. An overall radio experience is thus provided that combines the customization and flexibility of digital media with the immediacy and ubiquity of radio. Video materials may also be accommodated.
To me, that looks like a patent for a podcatcher. I decided to e-mail the PR contact listed on the press release and ask about it, rather than bang my head against the jargon and patent-ese available on the website.
This was the answer I received from Brian Posnanski at Gravitas PR:
First let me say—and Murgesh would firmly repeat—that VoloMedia is a big fan of podcasters and what they are trying to do. Downloadable media needs support, not roadblocks, and the last thing the company wants to do is become an impediment to the growth of podcasting and downloadable media. Suffice to say that the patent is not going to hinder what podcasters are doing… Everyone will go about their business as they have before.
Whew! But why couldn’t Volo have said that in the first place? Or even the second place? Brian provided me a link to a second blog post by Murgesh Navar, and while this one assures readers that Volo is not a patent troll and explains its quite laudable goal (to produce a means by which users can seamlessly find, listen to, download, and subscribe to podcasts as easily as they browse the web today) and points out that it has created useful free services for podcasters, he never manages to say in plain language that podcasters are free to go on podcasting without having to enter into any kind of commercial relationship with VoloMedia.
It’s just possible that Navar and his team are starting to regret that eye-catching headline. If they’d just said “VoloMedia Awarded Patent to Make Podcasts Accessible to Everyone,” they’d probably have been cheered by the very people out vilifying them across the blogosphere.