A Miami man who says he invented a form of cryptography to fight online piracy is suing Google (s goog), 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 (s fb).
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:
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