I was reading my emails this morning when I came across some troubling news.

I have set up google alerts for a number of terms or phrases that I like to follow so that I am always up to date on the latest news that is of interest to me. One of the keywords I follow is “podcasting”.

“As consumers recognize the convenience of automatic downloads for episodic media, podcasting has gone mainstream with major media companies and more than 37 million U.S. consumers engaged. This automatic downloading of episodic media closely resembles how one-third of U.S. households are using a DVR to watch television today. This patent recognizes our technical leadership in setting the trend for a broad-based movement towards downloading episodic television shows and making them portable,” said Murgesh Navar, founder of VoloMedia.

Yesterday the US Patent and Trademark Office granted a patent for “episodic media” to VoloMedia, a California based company that offers services to podcasters and media companies. VoloMedia’s products deliver advertising and reporting solutions for portable media, which extends the reach and monetization of video and audio podcasts. They apparently filed for the patent in 2003, before podcasting became a popular method of media distribution. The patent doesn’t only cover podcasting, which is the distribution of media over the internet via RSS feeds but covers any technology which would accomplish the same result.

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The US Patent number 7568213 can be viewed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office Website.

Volomedia founder, Murgesh Navar, wrote a blog post responding to the initial reaction to the patent. He states that the company is not interested in interfering with podcasters and has the industries best interest at heart.

… sometimes, patents end up in the hands of entities that have neither products nor technologies, but just obtain and hold patents to pursue infringing behavior through litigation. VoloMedia is not one of these. We are a real business, a founding member of the ADM, and an engaged participant in the episodic media download ecosystem with marquee publisher customers such as ABC News, MSNBC, Fox News, Washington Post and PRI, to name a few.

VoloMedia may be a real company, firmly entrenched in the podcasting and new media industry. They may be motivated to improve distribution of podcasts, increasing exposure and bringing podcasts into mainstream consumption. Nevertheless, I find this development extremely disturbing.

Companies can be bought and sold, or taken over. Intellectual Property can be sold or transferred to other entities. In the short run VoloMedia and their patent may have a positive effect on the industry but in the long run I don’t think so. Having one corporate entity controlling the distribution of “episodic media” can not be a good thing. I am a big proponent of the open source movement and believe that the distribution of episodic media should not be owned by anyone.

…specifically to VoloMedia’s motivation: The episodic media download “technology” ecosystem needs to become more seamless, more standardized, and more interconnected before it can become a mass medium. There are a few ways such seamlessness can be achieved: (1) A standards body is created with all the constituent technology providers (e.g., directories, media players, devices, analytics, advertising, etc.) participating and agreeing to common standards, (2) a large company with a lot of market influence and momentum creates a de facto standard, and everyone else follows or (3) a company uses its intellectual property to help drive a standard, using its IP to help define and improve the ecosystem for the benefit of all participants. VoloMedia’s motivations are primarily driven by the desire and need to make the episodic download ecosystem work, so consumers have a real choice in how they consume any media that is available on the Internet – whether in a web browser at an aggregation site like Hulu, or on a downloaded and portable basis using Apple’s iTunes and iPhone or Microsoft’s Zune. We will use our products, technologies, and patents towards this goal…We are intent on helping accelerate the growth and viability of downloadable, episodic media – much of its potential lies in the future.

The future of podcasting now lies in the hands of one company. Podcasting enables anyone to create content and share their passions with the world. At no other point in history has the individual had the ability to distribute their message to the masses like they can using Podcasting and Social Media. I sincerely hope that “episodic media” continues to be freely distributed and open to the public.