Patent for Distributing Copyrighted Material Over the Internet a Possibility

Ultramercial holds a patent (the ʼ545 patent) for a method for distributing copyrighted materials over the Internet.  The consumer gains access to copyrighted materials for free in exchange for first viewing an advertisement.  The advertiser pays the licensing fee for the copyrighted material.  Ultramercial sued Hulu, YouTube and WildTangent for infringing its ʼ545 patent.  Hulu and YouTube were dismissed from the case.  The district court granted WildTangent’s motion to dismiss on the basis that the ʼ545 patent did not claim, i.e., seek to protect, patent-eligible subject matter.

On appeal, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court and remanded the case back to the district court.  The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which vacated the Federal Circuit’s decision.  On remand from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit again held that the district court erred in holding that the ʼ545 patent did not claim patent-eligible subject matter.  I think the most interesting aspect of this case is that the Federal Circuit ruled that it is possible to patent a method for distributing copyrighted content over the Internet.  The Federal Circuit did not rule on the substantive criteria regarding novelty (35 U.S.C. §102), non-obvious subject matter (§103) or the specification requirements (§112) for patent eligibility.

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