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Acacia Update: Still Flying Underneath the Radar

While this summer saw a flurry of major media outlet coverage of Acacia’s attempts to license its DMT patents—especially to universities and colleges—the rest of the year saw little to no reporting on this hot-button issue. This is somewhat understandable when you take into account the esoteric nature of Acacia’s patents; they may have far-reaching implications, but too few people understand the inner workings of digital media transmission to justify regular mainstream media coverage.

For issues that don’t receive a lot of media play, sometimes the only place for affected parties—especially those within a specific industry—can turn to for additional information and advice is the trade organizations that are supposed to represent them and fight for their rights. Some of these organizations have made strong moves to align themselves against Acacia, while many others remain neutral. Here’s a look at a small sample of these trade organizations and what they’re doing (or not doing) in the face of Acacia’s DMT patents.

The FightersThe Electronic Frontier Foundation, while not specifically a trade organization, has played the role of an umbrella advocacy group for all manner of digital rights issues. They’ve also been one of Acacia’s most vocal critics, listing their patents number one on the EFF’s Patent Busting Project’s "ten most-wanted patents." "The Acacia DMT patents are nothing less than an attempt to monopolize one of the most popular mediums of free expression on the Web—streaming media," says Jason Schultz, staff attorney at the EFF. "The EFF will play an active role in fighting the DMT patents by filing a reexamination request on several of them, asking the U.S. Patent Office to revoke or substantially limit their scope."

Other organizations, like the Online Policy Group ("a nonprofit organization dedicated to online policy research, outreach, and action on issues such as access, privacy, digital defamation, and the digital divide," according to its Web site), have aligned themselves with the EFF on this matter. When asked for comment, the OPG forwarded the question to the EFF, and Schultz answered. In his answer he goes further into the specifics of what can and/or should be done about Acacia. "Unless you’ve already been sued, I wouldn’t consider paying any licensing fees until the courts start ruling in [Acacia’s] favor," says Schultz. "If folks want to do something in the meantime, they can help us research the evidence to invalidate the patents, which is often called ‘prior art.’"

The EFF isn’t alone in spearheading efforts to uncover the heretofore elusive prior art that would render Acacia’s patents invalid. EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology, is taking an active role in trying to debunk Acacia’s patent claims. "In conjunction with the National Association of College and University Attorneys," explains EDUCAUSE general counsel Sheldon Steinbach, "we’ve set up a joint events group to coordinate research that’s looking into the validity of the patent." For EDUCAUSE, Acacia’s DMT patents are an issue worth fighting over. "We don’t want our constituents to feel that they’re out there alone," says Steinbach. "We’re providing a mechanism to counterattack. We are exploring each and every avenue of redress against Acacia."

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