HD Radio finds itself under attack in the courts from an unlikely agitator: the patent troll.
What is a patent troll? In a nutshell, they are scumbag bottom-feeders in the land of intellectual property law. Patent troll companies have no real business; they buy up existing patents and then launch campaigns of lawsuits against others that are using "their" technology, claiming that the defendants have violated "their" intellectual property rights.
The idea is to intimidate defendants into making quick settlements, avoiding a potentially costly lawsuit. Even though their claims often have no legal merit—or the patent itself is so vague as to be difficult to define—companies targeted by patent trolls will often settle just to get the nuisance out of their hair. While this might be tactically acceptable, it sets a terrible strategic legal precedent, as it gives a patent troll more courage to continue and expand their campaigns.
Legal scholars have estimated that patent trolls raked in some $29 billion from their nefarious activities in 2011. That same year, WBEZ’s This American Life produced an excellent episode that breaks down patent trolls and their modus operandi. The top five patent trolls in the country have collectively sued several thousand companies large and small over the last five years.
In the case of HD Radio, earlier this month a Delaware-based patent troll named Wyncomm, LLC, representing its "subsidiary," Delaware Radio Technologies (for all intents and purposes, both are shells established for the purposes of patent-trolling), sued several broadcasters using HD Radio. The primary patent at issue was initially awarded to AT&T in 1996 and covers "side channel communications in simultaneous voice and data transmission." The patent itself vaguely refers to telephony and wireless data services.