Hulu wins patent infringement case

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Hulu wins patent infringement case

Fri Aug 20, 2010 @ 11:36AM PST

By Eriq Gardner

6a00d83451d69069e20120a966c508970b-320wiHulu might not be the favorite website of TV creators like Steve Levitan ("Modern Family"), but the studio-owned video platform has a fan in federal court. Hulu has survived a patent infringement lawsuit brought by a company that claimed to own an invention allowing Internet users to view copyrighted material free of charge in exchange for watching certain ads.

A federal court in California has invalidated a patent by plaintiff Ultramercial, LLC as not covering patentable subject matter. Specifically, the court applies a test the Supreme Court recently drew up in its landmark decision, Bilski v. Kappos, over business method patents. The test is whether a patent covers a "machine-or-transformation." In invalidating the patent, the California district court rules that the patent in question is not aimed at a computer-specific application, that the Internet is not a machine, and that the mere act of storing media on computer memory doesn't tie the invention to a machine.

In other words, Ultramercial was merely asserting an "invention" of an abstract idea.

The case could get further review at a higher court. In its decision, the federal court says the "parties may benefit from the Federal Circuit's guidance on this issue."

We won't subject you to commercials to hear the nut of this story: Patent infringement claims are getting tougher to press. Hulu finds itself as one of the first beneficiaries of this new judicial approach to evaluating the merits of a claimed patent.

Incidentally, Hulu and founding investor NBC Universal are still fighting claims by a Canadian company called Huluvision, alleging executives stole a trademark and misappropriated trade secrets. We hear that this case recently went to private arbitration.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to

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