Arbitron sues Digimarc over PPM technology


Bloomberg reports Arbitron has sued Digimarc Corp. seeking to invalidate nine patents covering technology to monitor broadcasts. Digimarc allegedly sent Arbitron a letter in July claiming Arbitron’s PPM technique for detecting an inaudible code embedded in radio broadcasts infringes patents held by the company and may require a license. Arbitron asked a judge to bar Digimarc from suing the company for infringement, according to a complaint made public in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware. Arbitron would not comment on the suit.

“Arbitron has a reasonable apprehension of imminent harm that is sufficient to warrant issuance of a judgment that the Digimarc patents are invalid and/or not infringed,” lawyers for the company said in the complaint.

The dispute centers on Arbitron’s method for estimating the number of radio listeners through the PPM system. Digimarc said in its July letter that its patents were infringed by the way the meters detect the codes.

Arbitron spent more than 20 years developing and acquiring the technology associated with the PPM and has been granted more than 15 US patents related to audio encoding and monitoring technology, according to its complaint.

Research Live reports the claims relate specifically to Arbitron’s Critical Band Encoding Technology (CBET). This is the technology the company uses to embed inaudible codes in radio broadcasts, which are then detected and recorded by the PPM devices as a means of determining the audience size for various stations.

“…on 15 July Arbitron chief executive Michael Skarzynski allegedly received a letter from Digimarc’s chairman and CEO Bruce Davis claiming that CBET infringes Digimarc patents, and that certain improvements to CBET which “enabled [the] successful commercialization [of PPM] may require a license from Digimarc.”

Arbitron claims that Davis threatened to pursue patent litigation against the company in the absence of “negotiation of a simple license or more comprehensive business relationship”.

But Arbitron sued first, said the story. It has asked a Delaware District Court to rule that its technology does not infringe Digimarc’s patents, and that those patents are invalid for alleged “failure to satisfy one or more of the conditions of patentability set forth in Title 35 of the United States Code”.

RBR/TVBR observation: This is the latest blow to Arbitron’s PPM, which settled lawsuits in January by New York and New Jersey claiming PPM under-represented minorities. A group of congressmen recently called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate the system and the FCC is already holding its own inquiry. PPM critics have even appealed to President Barack Obama to intervene (meanwhile, agencies are demanding PPM ratings for their buys because they want a more accurate sample). So all of this puts a lot of pressure on Arbitron’s bottom line—lawyers are not inexpensive and investors do not like problems such as these.