Legally embattled Internet TV startup Aereo is seeking to patent a way to stream local TV broadcasts over the Internet to users who aren’t in their “home market” -- even though the company has claimed the service was “never intended” to provide that capability.
Aereo, which is currently fighting copyright-infringement lawsuits by major TV broadcasting companies, filed an application Feb. 17, 2012, for a “Cloud Based Location Shifting Service.” The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published the application last week.
The patent application summary describes a “method and system for enabling users to access video capture services from a home market while temporarily located in outside of it, i.e., roaming. The user temporarily located outside of their home market uses a regional system as a proxy in a home market in which the user is able to receive regional content. The regional system then transfers the regional content to the roaming user.”
The beta version of Aereo’s service provided a way to manually override the service’s geoblocking features, which restrict access to users who are physically in the market for the TV stations they’re trying to watch. Last month Aereo said the override capability was only for certain demo and review accounts.
“Aereo was never intended to be used out of market,” the company said in a statement to Multichannel News last month. “Users are not supposed to lie in order to game the system and we have additional checks in place to make sure that doesn't happen."
But given the patent application, Aereo certainly designed out-of-market access even if it is not currently enabled. The company’s application does note that, “In some examples, an ability of the users to access live streaming content transmissions is disabled when those users are roaming from their home markets. In still other examples, the users located outside their respective home markets are further disabled in their ability to access previously recorded content transmissions.”
Meanwhile, Aereo also on Feb. 17 filed a sixth patent application. That one, for “Fast Binding of a Cloud Based Streaming Server Structure,” describes a “system and method to rapidly switch from a primary content stream to a secondary content stream with minimal delay.”
Aereo’s service uses tiny antennas dedicated to individual subscribers, which the startup argues provide customers remote access to free over-the-air TV in the same way consumers at home can legally use an antenna to watch broadcast TV.
Aereo won a legal victory in July when a federal district court judge denied a motion for a preliminary injunction filed by TV broadcasters to shut it down. That ruling relied on a previous appeals court ruling that Cablevision Systems' Remote Storage DVR service did not violate copyright laws.
In November 2011, Aereo filed for four U.S. patents: Antenna System with Individually Addressable Elements in Dense Array; System and Method for Providing Network Access to Individually Recorded Content; Method and System for Processing Antenna Feeds Using Separate Processing Pipelines and System and Method for Providing Network Access to Antenna Feeds. Those are still being reviewed by the USPTO.
At least one patent expert has said Aereo’s prior patent filings provide it some legal defense against the broadcasters’ lawsuits because they describe the Aereo system using individual antennas for signal capture (see The Aereo Case: Do Its Patent Applications Give It Legal Cover?).
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