Last week, years of arguing and contention came to an end. The fight I’m referring to was not a political campaign, but that doesn’t make its impact on our country any less significant – it’s a victory that everyone can celebrate. Finally, the long-running patent litigation battle between TiVo and Comcast is over. Comcast had infringed TiVo’s patents and, to put it simply, was bullying the smaller company by weaponizing their larger legal team. Eventually, the International Trade Commission (ITC) stepped in and the two companies were able to reach a new, long-term licensing agreement. In doing this, a crucial precedent was potentially set – it will arguably harder for massive companies to take advantage of smaller ones.
Late last month, TiVo won its second intellectual property battle with Comcast at the International Trade Commission (ITC) and is poised to win a third ruling this summer. The agency issued an exclusion order under Section 337 of the Tariff Act to prevent Comcast from importing digital video receivers that violate TiVo’s Rovi cable box patents. Now, unable to win on the argument that it did not infringe on TiVo’s patents, Comcast is trying again, this time attacking the ITC as an institution.
Last week, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) issued 39 decisions on inter partes review (IPR) proceedings, instituting 24 IPRs and denying 15. The PTAB instituted one of four IPR petitions filed by Comcast to challenge a single patent owned by Rovi, adding a new chapter to the legal battle between those two parties over unlicensed television technologies. Spotify also saw the institution of one of three IPR petitions challenging user profile and playlist recommendation patents owned by S.I.S.V.E.L.
Perhaps Rovi will take the opportunity to test the waters with the newly created Precedential Opinion Panel (POP), which is intended to bring uniformity between examination procedures and the PTAB at the USPTO. USPTO Director Andrei Iancu has promulgated new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), and new claim interpretations rules will soon be in effect at the PTAB. A patent litigator by training, Director Iancu seems very interested in the PTAB giving other tribunals that have previously considered validity matters due consideration, something the PTAB has rarely, if ever, done. With the creation of the POP, and new SOPs that give the Director the authority to make decisions of the PTAB precedential at his discretion, this string of Rovi cases could present a very interesting test case on whether the PTAB actually will provide deference to tribunals that have previously considered validity issues, or whether the PTAB with its lower threshold for invalidity will continue to be the court of last resort for infringers who have lost elsewhere.
On Monday, September 10th, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) issued a final decision in an inter partes review (IPR) proceeding petitioned by telecommunications conglomerate Comcast Corporation to challenge a patent held by electronic program guide developer Rovi Guides, a subsidiary of TiVo. The panel of administrative patent judges (APJs) in the case issued a mixed claim finding which nixed 20 of 24 challenged claims but upheld claims covering a buffering feature which Rovi is seeking to license with Comcast.
TiVo files patent lawsuits, the latest steps TiVo has taken in the hopes of resolving the renewal of a long-term licensing agreement that TiVo has already has already finalized with other major pay-television providers in the United States… TiVo’s recent litigation campaign against Comcast stems back to an unresolved licensing agreement that expired in April 2016 and which TiVo has attempted to renew with the major American pay-TV provider. Rovi first signed licensing agreements with the top pay-TV providers in the U.S., including Comcast, Dish Network, DirecTV and Time Warner, back in 2003 and 2004 with each deal lasting for a period of 12 years. In 2015 and 2016, around the same time that Rovi acquired TiVo for about $1.1 billion, the company began proactively engaging in licensing talks, again striking long-term deals like 10-year agreements with both AT&T and Dish. Of the top 10 pay-TV providers in the United States, Comcast is the last holdout who has not signed a licensing deal with TiVo.
Toomey’s comments appear to argue against an exclusion order for TiVo, which at first glance probably is hardly surprising to anyone. Senator Toomey is supporting a large constituent, which is to be expected. However, by doing so in this case Senator Toomey but seems to be directly at odds with a letter he sent just three years ago expressing “strong support of the protections afforded by 19 U.S.C. § 1337 (Section 337)” for a different constituent. Back in 2014, Senator Toomey wrote to the ITC to support a proposed exclusion order because the patent holder in that case “had made considerable financial investments into developing these technologies and without adequate remedies for imported goods that use their patents without paying for them, our de facto policy will be one that encourages this type of activity.” He argued that “[t]his will only deter companies . . . from taking bets on future research and development. That cannot be good for American innovation and job creation.”
An ITC administrative law judge issued a final initial determination finding Section 337 patent infringement violations committed by various entities, including Philadelphia-based telecom firm Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA), in light of two patents asserted by TiVo… News reports indicate that a final ruling on this Section 337 investigation is expected on September 26th after a full investigation, at which point the ITC could decide to block infringing products being imported by Comcast and others in the investigation from entering the U.S. market. In the first full day of trading after TiVo filed that 8-K with the SEC, shares of the company rose by about 17 percent.
On Thursday, December 15th, Dish Network (NASDAQ:DISH) subsidiary and over-the-top (OTT) television delivery service Sling TV unveiled a new cloud-based digital video recording (DVR) technology. Customers using Sling to access live television programming can store up to 100 hours of content including full-length movies, single episodes and entire television series. Automatic deletion of oldest-watched content and simultaneous recording options are also included with the service. Sling’s cloud DVR service appears to only be available to customers accessing Sling through Roku devices in this first rollout of the program and the DVR service only works with certain channels.
Digital video recording (DVR) development company TiVo recently settled a patent infringement litigation, which it had filed last year against South Korean electronics giant Samsung. The settlement includes an intellectual property licensing agreement which will be in force for at least five years which will allow Samsung to continue providing DVR technologies in the U.S. market. TiVo first filed suit against Samsung last September in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (E.D. Tex.). The patent infringement complaint alleged that set-top boxes produced and marketed by Samsung to television service providers offered DVR technology which infringed upon a series of four TiVo patents.
Rovi will be looking to add about 1100 patents that TiVo currently owns and strengthen its portfolio of over 10,000. Rovi generates over 27% of its income by licensing it’s IP to prominent cable TV providers. A great chunk of Rovi’s income also comes from litigating against other players infringing on its patents… TiVo has been very active in filling patents on data acquisition and data processing; which would come in handy for Rovi’s media guides to improve on. The average strength of TiVo’s patents in certain domains like recommendations and filtering relevant results could be directly applicable to OTT providers. TiVo also has strong patents in security, data processing and which will be valuable to Rovi in pursuing licensing deals with Amazon, Hulu and Netflix.
In TiVo v. Echostar, Echostar lost on infringement of TiVo’s patented DVR functionality. Judge Folsom issued an injunction and ordered that Echostar stop offering the service and disable all storage to and playback from the hard disk. Unfortunately for Echostar, they did not appeal the wording of the injunction and took no action against the disablement provision. Instead they designed around it by downloading new code to get the set-top box to operate in a different way, in what appeared to be a pretty clean design-around. TiVo filed a contempt motion. Echostar was sanctioned on the grounds that there were not “colorable differences” and their design-around infringed. The dissent argued that not only were there colorable differences but moreover the differences established non-infringement. After two years of back-and-forth and one too many trips to Judge Folsom, the original 70 million that Echostar had to pay for the initial infringement rose to 300 million because of Echostar doing what they thought would get them out of infringing.
Just 12 days ago the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit issued its ruling in TiVo v. EchoStar, largely handing TiVo a victory in the epic saga between the two satellite TV giants. Earlier today TiVo Inc. (NASDAQ: TIVO), DISH Network Corporation (NASDAQ: DISH), and EchoStar Corporation (NASDAQ: SATS) announced today that they have settled all of their ongoing patent litigation. Under the terms of the settlement, DISH Network and EchoStar agreed to pay TiVo $500 million. On top of that the companies seem to have entered into a cross-promotion cooperation agreement.
On Tuesday, November 9, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard oral arguments in TiVo, Inc. v. EchoStar Corp. The case pits TiVo versus Dish, and any ruling from the Federal Circuit will necessarily define the extent to which a district court judge can rely on contempt proceedings to enforce an injunction rather than simply order a full blown new trial. In process the en banc oral argument in this case at the Federal Circuit did not substantially differ from the oral argument held at the Supreme Court the day earlier in the Costco copyright case, where the Supreme Court was struggling with the meaning of the phrase “lawfully made under this Title.” There are two phrases that will be at the center of resolving the TiVo case. The first is “fair ground of doubt,” and the second is “merely colorably different.”
In this edition of News, Notes & Announcements, happy birthday wishes to IPWatchdog.com for celebrating our 11th year online and a heartfelt thank you to all our readers. Additionally, the TiVo patent used to sue Echostar, the litigation at question in the en banc review at the Federal Circuit, survives reexamination at the USPTO. Professor Thomas Field (UNH) publishes the 21st edition of his IP casebook, which is now online in royalty free version; the USPTO is hosting the National Trademark Expo this Friday and Saturday on campus in Alexandria; the USPTO is hosting the 15th Annual Independent Inventors Conference on November 4-5, 2010, and I will be there teaching two sessions of patent claim drafting; US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke visits the USPTO and the AIPLA will host is Annual Meeting next week.