Google Acquires Circuit City Home Video Rental Patents

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Google is expanding into areas that we probably couldn’t have anticipated or guessed they might charge into only a few years ago, and it looks like they are being careful to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s along the way. A division of Circuit City developed video technologies in the late 90s that could be useful in today’s age of internet video rentals, including ways to restrict access of videos to people who rented them, and technology to help keep those videos from being pirated.

Last spring, it appears that those patents went up for sale. At the USPTO assignment database, Google was assigned the patents in an assignment executed on March 9, 2012, and recorded on April 20, 2012. No telling when Google actually purchased the patents, or what the terms of the deal were, but Google did announce last May that they would start offering movies for rent on the Android market, as well as making rental videos available on a YouTube Store in April.

Google introduced an entertainment hub they call Google Play this March, and you can rent videos there. The Android Market became part of Google Play when it launched.

While some of the patents below cover a largely unsuccessful DIVX video format that didn’t require returning the disc to a rental store, others cover aspects of video rental that look like they could be used over the internet, like authentication of access to the videos, encryption, billing, and limited access times. We don’t know if Google acquired these patents last spring before they started offering video rentals, but it’s possible that they did.

This transaction has little to do with search, but it does appear that Google is being extremely careful these days when it enters into a new area of service. On a search at the USPTO patent assignment database for NetFlix, I’m only seeing 18 pending and 15 granted patents assigned to the online video rental company. Google now has 6 more granted patents in this area than NetFlix.

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7 thoughts on “Google Acquires Circuit City Home Video Rental Patents”

  1. It’s too bad that this is what it’s come to, to protect yourself from patent trolls and companies suing at the mere inkling of competition.

    These patents look obsolete in today’s tech world save for a patent lawyer’s interpretation of “authentication of access to the videos, encryption, billing, and limited access times” applied to the internet.

    It’s sad really.

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  3. HI Brett,

    I haven’t had a chance to look through every one of the patents, and I don’t know if they are all obsolete. The “Digital content distribution system and method” patents don’t appear to be though. Here’s the abstract from that patent:

    A content distribution system and method which prevents unauthorized access to secured content such as movies and music. The system includes a source, a receiver, an authorized security device such as a conditional access module (CAM) for decrypting authorized content and an output device for outputting content. The system can also include a backend for managing accounts and system operations. One aspect of this invention is that the content data is derived from the Internet. The system allows for the verification of authorization to play secured content, the addition of watermarks to the secured content, the conversion of the secured content to a displayable form and the means for preventing output of the secured content.

    It’s possible that it might be the only amongst the group that might not be obsolete, but this group of patents appears to have been a package deal.

  4. I think it’s a cool idea if the Android Market give the users the possibility of renting movies. That could really give them a big advantage compared to their competitors.

  5. In the Android Market?
    I have an Iphone now, so unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to look so much at the Android Market yet, but I think I’ll buy the new Galaxy S3 soon.
    I’m really looking forward to the advantages of the Android platform, that I have been reading about, plus the possibility of watching websites with Flash elements. :)

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