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Akamai vs. Limelight

It would also not be right to discuss patent suits in the streaming sector without looking at Akamai's history. Famously predatory, Akamai has on several occasions tied up the senior management in patent law relating to core, common CDN processes. Akamai is notorious for producing submarine patents and claiming the competition is infringing on those patents, and does so with deep pockets.

Now I am not arguing that all the R&D that companies do to maintain a competitive edge should not be defensible, but the regulator will at some point need to decide if some patents are actually preventing healthy competitive markets from developing, with strategic value for many other sectors as an outcome.

In July 2016, after nearly a decade of legal wrangling, Limelight settled with Akamai (for $51m) for infringing US Patent 6108703.[1] Even on a cursory read, it becomes apparent to any engineer in this sector that despite a relatively early filing date in the history of CDNs (August 2000), every single webpage had been delivered with elements coming from varied locations from the invention of the web nearly a decade later. Indeed, with so much common prior art that could be cited, it is amazing that such a patent stands - although the devil is in the detail, of course.

The core of the debate is focussed on where the execution of the logic that decides which of several distribution locations a particular element is delivered from, with Limelight's claiming that the execution is outside of its control and ultimately essentially different than that of Akamai.

I honestly doubt that Limelight are alone in (intentionally or not) infringing this technical detail, although with such a heavy cost I doubt Akamai will be applying an expensive claim to any more CDNs: their action was clearly intended to tie up Limelights team and resources. To protect its core business, Limelight has had to keep capital reserves to weather any adverse outcome. That cash is out of circulation and could have otherwise been used to develop new services, benefiting the market, and also stimulating Akamai to do the same to maintain its competitive edge.

Akamai's activities over the past few years have been relatively dull, and focused more on these types of competitive moves and acquisition, rather than innovating and showing how to lead in the space. That is not without exception, but I think I make my sentiment clear: too much patent law makes the sector a dull place, achieving the exact opposite of what patents were set up to do. It may offer wonders for the shareholders of the financial organization, but it offers nothing to the consumer, and absorbs funds that could otherwise be used to increase human or intellectual capital. Sadly, this predatory pseudomonopolistic practice is all too common these days.

  • [1] http://www.google.co.uk/patents/US6108703
 
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