Google Wins Infringement Case at Trial Over Video Streaming Patent Covering 1980s Inventions

February 12, 2021

A Federal District Court in Texas handed Google and its subsidiary, YouTube, a victory in a patent infringement case over video streaming related technology invented as long ago as the 1980s. The plaintiff, Personalized Media Communications (PMC), alleged that YouTube sold and continued to sell products and services that infringe on their patents, which were collectively titled “Signal Processing Apparatus and Methods.” The patents in question cover technology related to adaptive video streaming, of similar type YouTube uses to stream videos to its users.

The companies on both sides have a high stake in the outcome of the trial. “The technology claimed in this case relates to adaptive video streaming, which enables content providers like Google to serve each user the highest possible quality video over the internet,” the lawsuit notes. “Adaptive streaming permits internet video content providers to serve users with content tailored to each specific user’s device and internet connection.” The suit also mentions that, without this technology, streaming video would suffer from poor quality and delays.            

“The continued success of [the licensing of PMC’s valuable video streaming patents] rests on demonstrating that PMC’s patents are enforceable, and that PMC is serious about enforcing them.”

Four patents are in question, which claim important features needed for efficient playback of video; Plaintiff says YouTube illegally uses what is claimed in the patents. PMC even licenses out the use of their invention to major companies like Samsung, DirectTV, and Sony for a royalty. “The continued success of [the licensing of PMC’s valuable video streaming patents] rests on demonstrating that PMC’s patents are enforceable, and that PMC is serious about enforcing them.” PMC wants 183 million USD from Google.

Google’s lawyer, Charles Verhoeven, argues that a couple of reasons exist as to why Google should win. Verhoeven says that Google does not infringe on the patents; he claims that the 1981 inventions the patents cover are outdated and that the patents are not analogous enough to cover the modern, 21st century internet technologies used by Google. In fact, even the latest invention covered by the patents came out twenty-five years before Google acquired YouTube. Technology has drastically changed and improved since then, especially in the area of the internet. PMC’s lawyer says that PMC licenses out their patents for use as an “interactive program guide,” and that because YouTube is a so called “interactive program guide” the patents should apply. Google’s lawyers disagree with PMC as to whether YouTube is a program guide. Google also says there is not even a mention of the “internet” in any of PMC’s patents in question.            

PMC actually owns 98 patents; the ruling has implications not just for the patents in question but for all of PMC’s intellectual property. If YouTube can skirt around the patents and use a similar technology without paying a royalty, other companies might follow in YouTube’s steps and stop paying for their own use of similar tech; and, new companies might not view PMC’s patents as serious or relevant. On the other hand, PMC may be over zealous in its attempt to use patents covering old equipment to sue over the modern, innovated equipment that Google currently employs. This misuse of patents can hurt innovation and discovery and increase costs for consumers. The issue on appeal will center around the question of whether the patents are sufficiently broad to cover the modern technology employed by Google and other video streaming companies.

Nick Yakoobian