MLB and NBA Score a Victory Against Abstract Video Streaming Patents

September 14, 2016

While the rise of “streaming” presents problems for various sports and entertainment outlets, a district court has given some of the major sports leagues a major win.
The United States District Court for the District of New Mexico granted a judgment on the pleadings in favor of the NBA, MLB, and various other sports and entertainment organizations, in a suit brought by Front Row Technologies LLC alleging patent infringement. Not only did the district court grant the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, but the District Court also killed ten of the plaintiff’s video-streaming patents.
The plaintiff in the case claimed to own ten different patents, titled “Transmitting Sports and Entertainment Data to Wireless Hand Held Devices over a Telecommunications Network,” “Providing Multiple Perspectives of a Venue to Electronic Wireless Hand Held Devices,” “Providing Multiple Synchronized Camera Views for Broadcast from a Live Activity to Remote Viewers,” “Displaying Broadcasts of Multiple Camera Perspective Recordings from Live Activities at Entertainment Venues on Remote Video Monitors,” “Providing Multiple Video Perspectives of Activities through a Data Network to a Remote Multimedia Server for Selective Display by Remote Viewing Audiences,” and “Broadcasting Venue Data to a Wireless Hand Held Device.”
All of the aforementioned patents were duly and legally issued between May 20, 2008, and March 19, 2013. The primary contention by Front Row was that the defendants had infringed on the patents by providing their own streaming services, such as the “MLB’s At Bat 13 application, and NBA League Pass.” The defendants then moved for a judgment on the pleadings, claiming primarily that the plaintiff’s “patents were invalid under the two-step test for patentable subject matter outlined in the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Alice Corp v. CLS Bankt Int’l, 189 L. Ed. 2d 296, 134 S. Ct. 2347 (2014).” In Alice, the Supreme Court required a two-step analysis for determining if something is patent-eligible. First, the court must “determine whether the claims at issue are directed to one of those patent-ineligible concepts.” Second, the court must “search for an ‘inventive concept.’” Ultimately, the district court applied the two-step test in Alice, and, turning on the second step, found that the patents Front Row claimed to possess were “directed to abstract ideas,” and thus lacked the requisite inventive concept, making them unprotectable.
While this decision is still fresh in the minds of the courts, it will be interesting to see how the killing of a patent is applied to other sources of streaming as well. As many scholars have noted, “[s]oftware patents have been controversial since the days when ‘software’ referred to the crude programs that came free with an IBM mainframe.” Disputes have erupted with the growth of the internet, and the various methods of transmitting video to consumers. The patents of “streaming” technology in particular have come under attack, with large companies, such as  Apple and Netflix, coming under fire for alleged infringement.
In a world where streaming is a major way for entertainment outlets to reach out to their viewers, the court’s decision to invalidate the patents fundamentally makes sense.

The broad language used to describe the patents, such as “Providing Multiple Video Perspectives of Activities through a Data Network to a Remote Multimedia Server for Selective Display by Remote Viewing Audiences,” could theoretically encompass nearly every, and any, type of “activity” an organization wishes to stream from one electronic device to another.

From streaming various sporting events, to award shows, to even the YouTube streamer operating from their home who uses multiple cameras to film multiple angles for his stream, the patents that were formerly possessed by Front Row Sports completely remove the possibility for any other streaming technology. As the court noted, “Front Row’s claims do not contain an inventive concept or meaningful limitation in scope.” Based on the language provided by Front Row in describing these patents, one would be hard pressed to find a kind of streaming technology that is not covered.
Ultimately, the district court came to the correct outcome. The court noted that all ten of the patents could be simplified into two main abstract ideas, “(i) sending video of an event to handheld devices over wireless networks; and (ii) authorizing handheld devices to receive streaming video based on a user’s location.” While patent protections can, and should, serve the legitimate purpose of protection for the registrant, the patents should be killed if they are registered in such a broad and encompassing way as done by the plaintiffs. This decision hopefully signals to patent seekers that while there is great opportunity for growth regarding the internet, they should be cautious with the descriptiveness used to ensure the patents protect their products. If the registrants are too broad describing the patented material, they may open themselves up to being killed by a court.