Patented Maneuvers

There’s a very clever group afoot in Washington, D.C.

I’ll let that soak in for a minute…

This particular outfit got a full column in The Washington Post through the crafty means of timing. E.g., the day after New Year’s; the collective snore is deafening. Anything resembling news will do.

So it was that something horribly acronymed CUTFATT said it would petition the FCC to regulate the patent fees on digital TV technology.

This Coalition United to Terminate Financial Abuses of the Television Transition claims Americans pay a $30 premium on digital TV sets. The Post reports the reason being, “electronics makers are being overcharged to use the intellectual property for digital tuners and other parts in TVs and converter boxes.”

Can someone get me a tissue?

OK, first of all, “CUTFATT?” Wildly assuming the whole thing’s not a hoax, how much money can this outfit have if all they can come up with is “CUTFATT?”

And second, who the heck are they? There’s no Web site, P.O. Box or amorphous boilerplate, much less a list of affiliates and participants. Clearly non-patent holding TV makers are behind the effort. That, or bored yahoos betting they can get media coverage for even the most absurd thing imaginable on the day after New Year’s.

Attacking competition through the guise of consumer abuse is a relic from the ’80s, when the last shred of public veracity was replaced entirely by the obfuscating baloney known as “spin.”

Cable TV has charged networks with consumer abuse for years over retransmission fees. Time Warner most recently bemoaned how Viacom’s evil demands would raise the rates paid by helpless cable subscribers. Time Warner didn’t mention that, um, maybe Time Warner could soak up the rate increase.

People didn’t buy the line, anyway. Little kids called Time Warner field offices and cried about them killing SpongeBob.

Viacom got its dime.

SpongeBob’s dad is Sumner “content is king” Redstone. CUTFATT’s parentage appears to be companies that want to make an extra $30 on their TV sets now that someone else laid out the money for research and development.

Then again, maybe this CUTFATT business is an extension of the war on intellectual property being waged in the entertainment industry. Content might be king, all right, but no one wants to pay for it. Hence Sumner’s hard line with Time Warner. Let Jeff Bewkes try to squeeze people on unemployment.

It’s easy to reason the entertainment industry hoisted its own petard and set off the file-sharing frenzy with $20 CDs. From what I hear, however, musicians still like to eat, which costs money, presumably paid to them by people who like their music. Eating thus helps them be alive, so they can make more music.

The companies that hold DTV patents aren’t going to starve without license fees, but why in the world would they invest in more complicated technology if they couldn’t wrench every possible penny out of it? What country are we in?

Patents are as much the birthright of every American as entering the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. They make each of us just one bottle of liquid paper away from the life of Reilly. This is why people patent things like leashes for imaginary pets and methods for growing unicorns. You never know.

The kicker here is that many of the patents used in the manufacture of digital tuners are set to expire soon. That, and once people find out in February how truly useless those tuners can be, someone will get sent back to the lab. I’m guessing it won’t be someone from CUTFATT.