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Comedian Marc Maron Gets Serious About 'Patent Trolls'
Marc Maron has been a standup comedian for more than 30 years, and the host of the twice-weekly WTF With Marc Maron podcast since 2009. Earlier this year, he got a letter from Personal Audio—which owns five patents that “describe a series of innovations designed to allow consumers to have a personalized audio or video experience using a media-enabled device connected to the Internet”—asserting its patents related to podcasting. And thus began Maron’s introduction to the world of patent assertion entities (PAEs), otherwise known as “patent trolls.”
Marc Maron: I got a call from my friend Sam who asked me if I got this letter from Personal Audio. I didn’t know what he was talking about, so we went to check the P.O. box. There was this mildly coercive letter suggesting that we were infringing upon a patent and they wanted us to get in touch to discuss licensing the patent. And at that time, I had no idea what a patent troll was. If I had seen that letter and Sam hadn’t told me what it was, I would have thrown it out.
MM: It became clear that this was not on the level, and none of us could afford to protect ourselves. Yeah, we can go to lawyers, but none of us can afford to litigate this thing. That’s why we reached out to the EFF, we figured out some talking points, got press attention on This American Life, on Planet Money.
MM: I know this is something that larger companies deal with quite often. It wasn’t so much being a comedian, it was that it was picking on the little guy. It was clear in interviews that this patent owner had no idea what podcasting was, had no idea what the human element of it was, had no idea even how his particular patent necessarily covered podcasting. So it’s not so much a comedian thing as that this seemed really wrong and we have an ability to talk about it.
MM: It’s a scary thing to fight a fight, because you become a target. I figured that I’d already gotten three of those damn letters, so I was already a target. He’s either going to sue us or he isn’t, and at some point you’ve got to stand up for something. It seems the EFF has taken up the fight to file for a reexamination of that patent. I think it comes down to the fact that somebody’s got to stop the way that this works. This doesn’t seem to be something that promotes invention or encourages entrepreneurial activity.
MM: We all met with a couple of people, but having gone through two divorces, the lawyers aren’t my go-to people for anything. I know they’re important—I have a lawyer for my show business, and on the talent side I have representation. But what we chose to do is to inform ourselves as a community and talk to people who knew what they were doing. But when we talk to them about it, it just seems that the very model of predatory patent trolling, there’s a built-in coercive element and it’s completely unreasonable to litigate. That became very apparent to us.
MM: I understand it in the same way as somebody who got an opportunity that didn’t pan out. In show business, a lot of guys almost make it. A lot of guys get on TV for a little while and then it goes away. A lot of people write a lot of scripts that don’t get made. From my understanding of this particular guy and this particular patent, this is a guy who had some designs for some technology that could have been applied to a lot of things. He tried to build a machine, and he couldn’t get it done for one reason or another. He failed at executing on his patent in a way that it could enter the marketplace. So now, because of loopholes in the patent system, he’s able to re-introduce that patent and now try to retrofit it on anything that he thinks would apply to his patent.