United States: Sound View Escalates Patent Assault On Open Source Software With New Wave Of Lawsuits

Last Updated: October 1 2019
Article by Bart Eppenauer

Sound View Innovations, an IP licensing company that is quickly becoming a prolific Non-Practicing Entity (NPE), has ramped up its litigation campaign by filing seven more lawsuits in 2019. Similar to the patent lawsuits that it initiated in 2016 and 2017 against major players like Facebook, Hulu, Twitter and Fidelity, Sound View is again targeting widely used open source software including jQuery and Apache Hadoop. Sound View is also accusing ubiquitous streaming media protocols of patent infringement such as HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and MPEG-DASH. In January 2019 Sound View filed lawsuits against several media companies such as AMC Networks, CBS Interactive and The CW Network. And in April 2019, Sound View diversified its industry targets by filing patent lawsuits against Walmart and Delta Airlines. With this latest round, Sound View has now filed 13 patent infringement lawsuits since starting its campaign against Facebook in February 2016.

All of the Sound View patents were originally filed and owned by AT&T Bell Labs or Lucent Technologies. Sound View acquired these patents from Alcatel Lucent in December 2013, the same year that Sound View was founded. Since 2013, Sound View has acquired over 1000 patents, more than 500 of which are active U.S. patents. As we lamented in our article reporting on Sound View's litigation against Fidelity, it is beyond ironic to see the patents of AT&T Bell Labs and Lucent, among the most respected research institutions of the 20th Century, now owned and asserted by a Patent Troll.

In its complaint against Delta Airlines filed on April 9, 2019, Sound View asserts four patents, two of which have now expired. Sound View alleges that Delta's web pages and internet services infringe now expired US Patent 5,806,062 by use of the Document Object Model (DOM), and specifically jQuery, to create and process customizable data analysis and processing applications. With regard to another expired patent, US Patent 6,502,133, Sound View points to Delta's use of Apache Spark, a unified analytics engine for large-scale data processing, to perform data stream processing in real-time. For its infringement allegations of US Patent 6,725,456, Sound View identifies Delta's use of Apache Hadoop YARN. And for US Patent 7,426,715, Sound View alleges that Delta infringes this patent by its use of Apache Ambari to manage service dependencies and shutdown sequences in Apache Hadoop, making it easier to provide ongoing cluster maintenance and management. Sound View's other recent lawsuits against media companies include similar (sometimes virtually identical) allegations against open source software usage by those companies.

It's beyond troubling to see Sound View expand its patent attack on open source software usage, and they are doing so against a wide range of companies that are not themselves players in the software industry. In essence, Sound View is waging a "customer" focused patent campaign against end users of open source software. And since many of those companies likely turn to external vendors for their IT systems development and deployment of open source, they are not readily equipped to respond to Sound View's allegations on a technical basis. That's exactly what Sound View is counting on – betting that these companies will roll over and pay extortionate and unwarranted patent licensing fees rather than spend precious resources in thorough technical investigation and aggressive litigation defense.

Fortunately, some defendants are fighting back, and actually fighting back hard. For example, Hulu has yet to settle after nearly two years of litigation, and has seen recent success in narrowing Sound View's lawsuit by obtaining a stipulated dismissal of its Hulu Live TV product as well as certain claims of one patent in suit. Hulu is also battling Sound View in the Patent Office. Along with Time Warner, Comcast, Disney, and 21st Century Fox, Hulu has filed six Petitions for Inter Partes Review seeking to invalidate Sound View's patents on the basis of prior art patents and printed publications. Hulu has successfully invalidated all claims of two of the Sound View patents in the IPR proceedings, with two other IPRs still open and pending post institution. And Hulu isn't the only one filing IPRs against Sound View. Unified Patents has taken on Sound View as part of its mission to deter patent abuse against its members, and successfully secured a finding of unpatentability of multiple claims of Sound View's '371 patent which has been asserted in five lawsuits. Unified also has another IPR in the works and instituted against a Sound View patent that has been asserted in seven lawsuits.

While it may be gratifying to see Hulu and Unified standing up against Sound View, given the widening surface area of new industry targets, it would seem that the opportunity is right for major open source entities such as the Open Invention Network to step in and defend against these open source patent attacks. While OIN is not setup as a patent litigation defense entity, perhaps now is the time to broaden its charter. Alternatively, more companies on the receiving end of Sound View patent assertions should band together in a common defense, and consider joining Hulu, Unified and others in the collective fight against Sound View.

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