Netflix recently had a patent application publish for technology directed towards parallel streaming of data to different devices. This is a link to the patent application U.S. patent application #US 20130173758.
At a high level the patent application describes methods for a content player to stream media using multiple network connections. As known in streaming media, the higher throughput that can be achieved using a network’s bandwidth available to a content player, such as your computer, PS3, xbox, roku, etc. the higher bit rate encoding maybe used for playback to present higher quality content to the end-user without needing to be buffered.
Netflix’s patent application is directed towards sing multiple network connections to have a better throughput to the content player. To stream the media content, the content player downloads a file header associated with a given title, establishes a network connection with multiple content servers, and beings requesting portions of the digital file from the different content servers. When a content server receives a request from the content player, the content servers will transmit the requested portion of the media to the content server.
Below is a representative claim of the broad features that Netflix is trying to patent with their patent application.
1. A method for downloading, in parallel, a digital content file using a plurality of network connections, the method comprising:
receiving a list of one or more content servers hosting a copy of the digital content file;
establishing the plurality of network connections with the one or more content servers;
receiving metadata describing a plurality of sequential portions of the digital content file;
each time one of the network connections is determined to be idle, selecting one of the portions of the digital content file to be downloaded over the idle network connection and downloading the selected portion from the content server using the idle network connection;
storing each downloaded portion of the digital content in a content buffer; and
playing back the portions of content downloaded and stored in the content buffer.
As can be observed above, independent claim 1 of Netflix’s patent application is fairly broad. The main limitation in the claim appears to be the timing element that once one of the network connections is idle, using the idle network connection to be download a selected portion form the content server. What I find interesting in this claim is the limitation that requires “selecting one of the portions of the digital content file.” I would be interested to see how a court would construct the term “selecting.” Specifically, if a court would construe this to be an active step that has to happen, or if it could be passive step, such as “the next desired” portion. If the court were to construe this limitation to be an active step, then the claim would be much narrower.