American entertainment company Netflix has recently been sued by a company called Blackbird Technologies regarding its offline download feature, which was introduced back in November.
Blackbird is one of the companies that are described as "patent trolls," which are firms that do not have any products or assets, except for patents. With these in hand, the company gains profits through lawsuits, thus the term "trolling."
The patent company filed a lawsuit not only against Netflix, but also SoundCloud, Vimeo, Starz, Mubi, and Studio 3 Partners. All of these companies have an offline downloading feature in their services. The lawsuits were filed in Delaware Federal Court.
Blackbird Technologies currently owns US Patent No. 7,174,362, which is a "method and system for supplying products from pre-stored digital data in response to demands transmitted via computer network." It was originally issued in 2000 to Sungil Lee, a San Jose entrepreneur and business instructor.
Peculiarly enough, '362 is more than just the downloading feature concerned, but it also tackles burning data into CD-Rs. The patent abstract reads:
The present invention relates to a digital data duplication system that utilizes one or more computer networks to automate the process from order-taking to delivery, eliminating the need for human supervision. Customers enter requests for a given number of machine-readable articles containing digital data, typically compact disks. The requests are transferred to a website, which sends to a server electronic mails containing the details of the requests. Upon receiving an electronic mail, the server directs a printing device to produce mailing labels for shipment. The server has an internal archive of all data it uses to convert blank CD-Rs into the requested CDs, and is connected to a series of CD-R writing machines. The CD-R writing machine subsequently transfers the data in its cache onto the pre-loaded CD-Rs. After the data transfer is complete, the CDs embodying the requested information are automatically placed in a bin for shipment.
As it reads above, it is apparent that the patent does not directly target Netflix or any of the mentioned respondents. However, with patent trolls, that does not necessarily discourage the legal pursuit of such companies.
As an example, back in September of 2016, MobileMedia Ideas, which is owned by Nokia, Sony, and IP rights management firm MPEG LA, found Apple guilty of infringing a ring-silencing patent. This eventually resulted in the Cupertino giant paying out $3 million in damages in addition to legal fees.