Apple, Google, and Pandora were sued last week for allegedly infringing on patents owned by  Post Media Systems in their online music services, in what may be the latest example of so-called patent trolls seeking to make profits through the legal system.

Post Media alleges in three nearly identical federal lawsuits filed in Illinois that the companies violated four patents related to sharing media over networks including the internet. Sirius XM, Pandora’s parent company, is also listed as a defendant. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. 

Post has previously attempted to use similar tactics against Spotify, iHeartMedia and Slacker, Apple Insider reported.

Since the companies are aware of patents covering online music sharing, the lawsuits accuse them of acting with “specific intent to cause infringement or with willful blindness to the resulting infringement.”  

As assignee and owner of the patents, Post Media is pursuing the case on behalf of inventor and SoniClear owner Alan Bartholomew. The cases note that Bartholomew is “concerned about maintaining his software business in the volatile economy” as he prepares for retirement. He turned to Post Media hoping to recover his costs without “incurring financial risk to his family,” according to the suits.

  • Critics commonly refer to companies like Post Media as “patent trolls,” and complain they are a growing problem for tech companies. 
  • Post Media has been plaintiff in about a dozen cases since 2017, according to the Pacer search engine that covers the federal court system.
  • Apple and Google were sued for patent infringement from Personal Audio LLC over patents covering playlist navigation. Apple settled the case in 2011. Seven years later, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected efforts to block a lower court ruling throwing out those patents.
  • According to research from Boston University, there was a six-fold increase in patent litigation between 1990 and 2010.  
  • A report from Stanford Law School and the University of Texas McCombs School of Business found that 1% of defendants in patent troll suits had infringed on a valid patent. However, 87% of defendants settle lawsuits because the cost of defending cases average $3.2 million.
  • Karma Take: Patent trolls typically have low costs and large potential profits, meaning the problem shows no sign of ending without patent law reform. Meanwhile, smaller firms are going to be especially vulnerable to troll lawsuits, given the high costs of defending them.