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Summary:

A patent holder who claims to own “signal abstraction” is going after companies that use basic anti-piracy techniques. The dispute has spawned dozens of lawsuits and raises questions yet again about the state of America’s patent system.

Genius

A Miami man who says he invented a form of cryptography to fight online piracy is suing Google, Shazam and dozens of others. Is this the second coming of code-breaking genius Alan Turing or just another patent troll?

The man in question is Scott Moskowitz. His company, Blue Spike LLC, has been furiously filing patent suits in East Texas against companies that use common digital water-marking techniques to prevent copyright infringement. His other targets include Sound Hound, Viggle, TuneSat and Facebook.

The lawsuits raise the question of whether Moskowitz should be rewarded with patent monopolies or whether he’s simply exploiting America’s troubled patent system.

Blue Spike’s legal filings explain that Moskowitz is “a pioneer in this new field between cryptography and signal analysis” and say that the “signal abstracting” he invented is a novel way to detect unlicensed music, text and films on the internet. Here is a more detailed description:

These are among the most effective techniques available for combating piracy, which are completely undetectable to the thief, yet still enable content owners to easily search through large amounts of data to identify unauthorized copies of their works … “signal abstracting” identifies digital information and material [..] based solely on the perceptual characteristics of the material itself. … Signal abstracting avoids watermarking’s vulnerabilities by leaving the source signal unchanged and catalogues the signal’s identifying features or perceptual characteristics in a database.

The filing also notes that Moskowitz has worked with the federal government and various professional societies, that he has two degrees from UPenn, and that Forbes and New York Times once referred to his work.

So what to make of all of this? On one hand, Moskowitz is well-versed in the field of digital watermarking and has won patents from the US Patent Office. But should this give him the right to sue every company that employs anti-piracy software?

There are reasons to be skeptical. First, it’s not clear that “Blue Spike” does anything besides sue people. The company has a website but the site doesn’t list products, clients or prices. And Blue Spike’s “office” is in Tyler, Texas, whose plaintiff-friendly judges and juries have made it ground zero of America’s patent troll epidemic. As for Moskowitz, his degrees are from business school — which seems an unlikely training ground for a cryptography master.

Then there are the patents themselves. Moskowitz applied for the core one in 2000 at a time when the US Patent Office was issuing patents for methods of swinging on a swing and exercising a cat with a laser pointer. Moskowitz’s US Patent 7,346,472 is for a “method and system for monitoring and analyzing at least one signal” and describes a technique for comparing signals against those in a database.

The patent may be valid and good (I’ll leave it to the engineers to decide) but there is still the question of whether Moskowitz should be allowed to brandish such a broad monopoly against so many companies. The targets now face an unpleasant choice between buying a license to make him go away or paying hundreds of thousands (or more) for a court fight.

Moskowitz’s lawyers say it’s about “going forward with what you believe in and not letting people walk all over your rights.” They say Blue Spike is not a patent troll. The targets of the patent mugging may disagree.

Ohter Blue Spike defendants include: Rovio; MySpace; Audible Magic; Specific Media; Photobucket; DailyMotion; Soundcloud; Myxer; Qlipso; Brightcove; MediaFire; Zedge; Harmonics; iMesh; Metacafe; iPharoah.

Here’s a sample complaint:

Blue Spike v Google

(Image by Realinemedia via Shutterstock)

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  1. My question isn’t whether, he is or isn’t legit. It is why he maybe questionable on having a monopoly on a product(s) yet, it seems very large companies can(E.G.Apple’s tap to zoom).

    John B.

    1. I don’t think Apple should be allowed to get patents on stuff like that either, but at least they put an actual product on the market.

  2. Jeff, jeff, jeff. You’ve continued to support my thesis: if you read anything on the web about patents it will likely be written by somebody who doesn’t know anything about patents.

    They do not claim to own “signal abstraction”. Edison invented a light bulb and his patent included the word electricity. Likewise one would have to know nothing about patents to think he claimed to own electricity – just because the word appeared in the patent.

    Second, you ask the question “But should this give him the right to sue every company that employs anti-piracy software?” No. The answer is no. And they do not claim that right. They claim the right to sue people they believe use the inventions disclosed in their claims. And why does it matter how many companies they sue? If 10 companies steal their invention – assuming they can prove it in court – is that OK but if 1000 companies do somehow not OK to sue?

    The patent monopoly is in the US constitution. Right there – easy to read. You don’t lose that right if the idea becomes ‘obvious’ 10 years later. You don’t lose that right if too many companies steal it. You don’t lose that right if those companies steal thousands of other property rights. And you don’t lose it if you don’t make anything. The US constitution says you have that right. The system has worked fine for over 200 years. Its working fine now. People keep saying that SW is different and the patent people don’t understand. I’m a patent person and an engineer. I understand. SW is not different. The problem is that SW people don’t understand the first thing about patents – for the most part.

    So why do you – and people like you – keep writing about such things?

    1. Jeff John Roberts pkj Tuesday, August 28, 2012

      pkj: I appreciate you taking the time to comment but your “who are you to say this” position feels more like rhetoric than a substantive response.

      Yes, the US Constitution does address IP but what it says is:

      “The Congress shall have Power: To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

      This does not mean that Mr. Moskowitz’s seemingly obvious patent is inviolable.

      1. Jeff – The issue of whether an set of claims is obviousness or not *today* is immaterial to a patent’s validity. All that matters, with regards to obviousness, is if the claims were obvious to one of ordinary skill in the art at the time the patent was filed. Have you read the claims? You said that you would leave it to the engineers to decide – which I took to mean you didn’t read the claims. Without that – and without considering the lay of the land when the patent was filed – you have no basis for suggesting that something seems obvious (let alone is obvious).

      2. Jeff, what seems obvious to you today literally is immaterial to the validity of a patent. And, since you said you were leaving the issue of whether a patent is “valid and good” to the engineers I assumed you didn’t analyze the claims in the context of one of ordinary skill in the art at the time of filing. Which is what ones needs to do in order to begin to reason about how obviousness affects validity.

        You are right – the constitution says nothing specific about the patent at hand. However, it also provides no basis for suggesting a person loses their patent rights if they don’t market a product with the technology included or that somehow if too many companies use that technology the inventor loses their exclusive right. It is for those reasons that I pointed you toward that document.

    2. Karen Kazaryan pkj Tuesday, August 28, 2012

      What constitution actually says is that the United States Congress can give patents to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.
      East Texas = patent troll. Why should we reward someone who didn’t bother to bring product to the market? How is this promoting progress?

      1. Pharma invents 10 drugs in an area – patents them all – then markets the best. Without the other 9 patents they would be vulnerable competition using their inventions – inferior though they may be – against them. This promotes progress in science.

        Thomas Edison patented stuff he didn’t market. He made money licensing his patents to others. Which he then used to promote progress in science.

        University professors invent stuff and license their inventions to IV. Who gives them money. And incentivizes them to invent more stuff that may be used in products – thus promoting progress.

        Three examples Karen right off the top of my head.

  3. “Is this the second coming of code-breaking genius Alan Turing or just another patent troll?”

    The next paragraph mentions East Texas, and this fact alone makes the above question rhetorical.

    1. National Cheng Kung University v. Apple
      Gevo v. Butamax Advanced Biofuels et. al.
      Cisco Systems v. TiVo
      Allergan v. Sandoz
      Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation v. MediaTek
      All eastern district so all Trolls, huh SJD? Another datapoint for my thesis.

  4. “seemingly obvious”

    Good for you. Since you haven’t provided any detail on obviousness, you’re right to go seemingly on us.

    Now, get off your %#^, do the work, and write an informative 2nd article on what this guy patented.

    THAT would be something you could contribute to the Progress of Science and the useful Arts.

    Thanks in advance,

  5. His patent doesn’t describe anything that hasn’t been around in digital signal processing circles for decades. Why it was granted is a mystery.

  6. Eric Alexandrakis Wednesday, August 29, 2012

    Jeff, really now? You’re calling one of the most brilliant and innovative people in tech, right up there with Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison a “troll”? Is that your journalistic standard, coming to silly conclusions without digging up all of the facts? Did you know that the first digitally watermarked CD came out in 1995, released by the University of Miami’s record label, produced by me, and included Scott’s watermarking technology? Did you know that Summer we received coverage in the NY Times for that accomplishment? Do you know which companies were the first to use the tech shortly thereafter? Did you know that initial tests in its evolution were done in places like world famous Criteria Studios in Miami? Did you know that when the film “The Hulk” was leaked, it was Scott’s tech that allowed the FBI to pinpoint who had leaked the film in a matter of days? Did you know that EVERY SINGLE company today that implements any kind of digital protection and exchange whatsoever, is using this tech? Maybe you should rewrite your article now with an interview from Scott.

    Eric Alexandrakis

    1. Eric and others, thanks for taking the time to weigh in. At your suggestion, I took a look at the claims and, frankly, it sounds like a lot of lawyer flim-flam to dress up the basic idea of comparing a remote impression to an identical one stored in a centralized location. I suspect prior will show this to be not just obvious but anticipate.

      But in the event I’m wrong, there’s still the question of whether it’s smart innovation policy to award Mr. Moskowitz such a sweeping monopoly. Doing so generates enormous transaction of which these lawsuits are just the beginnings. I’m not sure how this benefits the DRM industry and, especially, consumers.

      1. Jeff,

        I promise you won’t be wrong. The lawsuits will take a while and will burn money as usual but the claims won’t withstand a breath when reviewed by an expert.

        Arkadi

    2. Eric,

      it might be that Scott is a genius for watermarking, but this is about fingerprinting which is a complete different approach to content identification because nothing is embedded into the signals.

      The key issue is that around the Y2k the patent office had not much experience with those new technology stuff and you can see it took forever to issue the patent. But it’s so vague written that it shouldn’t ever been issued.

      A patent troll for me is someone who doesn’t offer a product with the patents he own and please correct me if I’m wrong but there is no fingerprinting system out there from Blue Spike .. why is this?

      Best Regards,
      Denon

  7. So here is my question…if someone takes 16 yrs and a whole lot of time and gets a PIONEER PATENT and wants to lease to the brain drain corporations who steal everything from ideas to our habits, and monopolize, why should they use it for free…Why shouldn’t someone be able to sue over the use of it…if they went through all that trouble? And I still dont understand why a company like Facebook is worth so much, they steal our likes and dislikes and we put it up there for free…..
    Scott should expect flak, but just because you dont have any patents in question and the dot com bubble burst like a fart on a crowded subway train, is it relevant to be a troll?
    He has, in my eyes earned the right to defend his intellectual property.
    sorry if there are spelling errors I am public school educated?

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