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TikTok’s troubles now include a patent infringement claim from Ryan Kavanaugh-backed startup Triller.
The LA-based social video app is suing TikTok and parent Bytedance for allegedly copying its “systems and methods for creating music videos synchronized with an audio track,” according to a complaint filed Wednesday in the western district of Texas, a recent patent litigation hotspot.
Much of the complaint centers on a new TikTok feature called Green Screen Video that allows users to record video layered on top of other video and then sync those layered videos to music. This allows users to show what appear to be digital clones of themselves together in the same video.
Triller is asking the court for a judgment that TikTok infringed its patent, an injunction barring the company against further infringement and damages plus attorneys’ fees.
East Texas had long been the go-to destination for patent suits because of a perception of favorable jury results for rights holders. A 2017 Supreme Court decision that held patent cases involving domestic corporations must be filed where the defendant company is incorporated slowed that a bit, but Austin’s burgeoning tech industry has given plaintiffs’ lawyers enough to justify the jurisdiction in West Texas. There’s been a boom in patent disputes following the 2018 appointment of U.S. District Judge Alan D. Albright, a former intellectual property litigator who has issued standing orders streamlining the process and making his district an attractive prospect for plaintiffs’ lawyers.
In this case, TikTok’s parent Bytedance is based in China and therefore the jurisdictional limits imposed by the Supreme Court three years ago may not be definitive. Because both TikTok and Triller are based in California, though, it’s likely TikTok will try to move the fight there.
Launched in 2015 as a music video app, Triller has recently wooed several TikTok stars, worried about the way Bytedance could be using their data, to its platform. The company announced earlier this week that Josh Richards would become its chief strategy officer and leave TikTok as part of his new employment. Other TikTok stars, including Griffin Johnson and Noah Beck, are joining the company as advisors and shareholders. Triller’s other backers include Snoop Dogg and Proxima Media, the firm launched by Kavanaugh after his Relativity Media filed for bankruptcy in 2015.
TikTok has had a fast rise in the U.S., where it merged with a predecessor named Musical.ly. It has been downloaded more than 2 billion times globally, according to third-party data firm Sensor Tower, and has minted stars out of teens like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae. Its popularity comes, in part, from how easy it makes content creation (and later viral stardom) through editing and special effects tools. But TikTok is facing scrutiny over how it stores user data and calls to ban the app in the U.S. have mounted.
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