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TiVo sues EchoStar for Patent Infringement 476

jhkoh writes "TiVo has filed a lawsuit against satellite TV provider EchoStar for infringing on its 'Time Warp' patent for DVR time-shifting. TiVo CEO Mike Ramsay adds: 'Our aim here is not to litigate everybody ... but to further advance and seek commercial relationships so that people recognize the value of our intellectual property, and give us fair compensation.'"
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TiVo sues EchoStar for Patent Infringement

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  • "TimeWarp" Patent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Osrin ( 599427 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @07:56PM (#7897673) Homepage
    For those who can't be bothered reading the article; "The suit, filed in federal district court in Texas, alleges that EchoStar's DVR infringes TiVo's ``Time Warp'' patent, which includes the method used to allow viewers to record one program while watching another and the storage format that supports advanced ``TrickPlay'' capabilities such as pausing live television, rewinding and slow motion." This does not mean that they'll be going after every DVR producer, only those who copied TiVo without adding any thought of their own.
  • by segmond ( 34052 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @07:59PM (#7897696)

    Everything that makes it to the public domain is always both obvious and trivial. Everytime we hear about a new invention/method, we always go, dang, why didn't we think of that! why? cuz it seems so obvious and trivial.
  • Go Patent Office! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Vaevictis666 ( 680137 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:02PM (#7897718)
    It alleges that EchoStar violated a patent related to features including a method for recording one program while playing back another.

    So as prior art did they list the PC?

    I'm sure I've managed to rip CDs to the hard drive as the same time I'm playing music. Sure it's audio vs video, but it amounts to the same thing don't it?

    Plus, I'm not entirely sure it's valid on the non-obvious point. Not having looked at the details I would say to implement it one could just ensure that the input and output subsections are separated, and then treat them individually. Each end has enough of a memory cache to hold a few (10?) seconds of video, and the hard drive takes turns emptying the input buffer and filling the output buffer from different sections (files) on the disk.

  • Re:Uh oh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cb8100 ( 682693 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:05PM (#7897758)
    "So does this mean they'll be taking a SCO approach and be going after whomever inherited ReplayTV and other companies with DVR's on the market?" Big difference here: TiVo has a patent proving its ownership of the technology. SCO is blowing smoke up everyone's ass with no proof of anything (cause it ain't true).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:06PM (#7897772)
    Not that the VCR long demonstrated the idea, and a DVR is a VCR in another format, or anything...

    Then again, perhaps you can explain what is so innovative about encoding an information stream and storing it using some arbitrary medium. Or perhaps the innovation here relies on the fact that the device can do it twice at the same time? Or perhaps the innovation is that there is enough processing power to both encode and decode separate streams at the same time?

    Help me out here - I'm not sure which part of these 30 year old ideas is not obvious and trivial...

  • by gid13 ( 620803 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:08PM (#7897792)
    'Our aim here is not to litigate everybody ... but to further advance and seek commercial relationships so that people recognize the value of our intellectual property, and give us fair compensation.'

    In other words, "We'll only sue you if you don't pay us lots first. We don't WANT to litigate everybody. But we will."

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Copyright and patent laws suck. I swear, if they're going to have IP laws like this, they should teach us NOT to share in Kindergarten.
  • by randyest ( 589159 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:09PM (#7897793) Homepage
    The suit, filed in federal district court in Texas, alleges that EchoStar's DVR infringes TiVo's ``Time Warp'' patent, which includes the method used to allow viewers to record one program while watching another and the storage format that supports advanced ``TrickPlay'' capabilities such as pausing live television, rewinding and slow motion.

    Huh? So I guess ReplayTV and Panasonic ShowStopper paid to license this "invention" from TiVo? I find that hard to believe, but I guess it's possible. Does anyone know for sure, or is ReplayTV (now owned by Denon&Marantz) next on the lawsuit target list? Seems odd that D&M would buy the flailing Replay without thier lawyers noting that their only product depends on an unlicensed patent owned by TiVo.

    Of course, this also seems to indicate that TiVo isn't doing so well these days. I had thought they were doing OK.

    Finally, I have to express my displeasure that such a patent was ever awarded. If anything, whoever patented the original VCR (assuming someone did) should hold this patent as well. Moving something from tape to digital storage and processing to provide the same features is not innovative enough to deserve a patent.
  • by happystink ( 204158 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:12PM (#7897818)
    Audio and video are not that close, read the actual patent, you might as well be saying "well i can look at an orange in my left hand while my right hand picks up another orange", your analogy is about that strong. The patent office may suck, but this one is valid, stop being so reactionary to any patent whatsoever.
  • by ePhil_One ( 634771 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:13PM (#7897841) Journal
    This is nonsense. TiVo is a market defining brand, up there with Xerox and Kleenex. They innovated the technology, they have pushed to help the public understand what it is. Tivo all in all has been very good about letting people explore the technology in a non infringing way.

    They have a right and a responsibility to their stockholders to defend their IP. If this was a open source project trying to defend itself from a company stealing its code you wouldn't be attacking them...

  • by badasscat ( 563442 ) <> on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:15PM (#7897855)
    Time shifting is both obvious and trivial, and hence any patent issued is invalid.

    It is neither obvious nor trivial. Tell me who did real-time time shifting of TV shows (including watching the beginning of a show while the end of that same show is still recording) prior to TiVo. You couldn't do that with a VCR, and nobody was using PC's to time-shift at that time (and if they were, they didn't patent that feature - TiVo did).

    The fact that it seems obvious and trivial now is a testament to how DVR's have changed our lives. There was nothing obvious or trivial about what they did when they were first invented, and that's the whole point of patents. DVR's are a major advance, an incredible invention, and one of the things that makes them so unique is the very feature TiVo is trying to protect.

    All TiVo is asking for is a proper licensing deal, which it seems they're due, and which many other companies have with them already. This is not an SCO-like case. TiVo is not trying to claim something like they invented the hard drive and any device that uses a hard drive violates their copyright. They're saying their business is largely based on a particular feature of a particular device that they did patent before anybody else, and they're just trying to protect that patent and get Echostar to sign a licensing agreement with them, which Echostar should have done in the first place if their legal dept. was paying attention (it's very easy to look up a patent ahead of time). They're not claiming a generic feature of PC's as their own, or of any particular OS, and they're not claiming a patent on something that existed before they did. And they've owned this patent for a long time.

    This is the sort of thing patent law was designed for. If you don't like patents in general, then you can argue against it on that position, though TiVo would likely be out of business without it. You can't argue, as I see it, against this specific patent, though. It's a perfectly reasonable sounding patent. Of course, IANAL.
  • by happystink ( 204158 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:17PM (#7897874)
    Okay, I will help you out: by suggesting you read the article and the patent. That'll help you more than just posting reactionary flamebait on slashdot.
  • WHY? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlkPanther ( 515751 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:19PM (#7897899) Homepage
    Gimme a break, the first thing I have to say about this, is other companies have been doing this for years, and Tivo waits until now until to sue? It seems to me that Tivo (obviously) knew about this competitor product, and was just sitting around waiting until the competitor's product reached critical mass (with all of the promotions Dish is running, they have been distribution a very large number of these infringing DVRs). Waiting until the competition is firmly committed in their distrobution gives Tivo the largest advantage (READ: Amount of money).

    In cases like this where a company waits around to sue until it will make them the most money, rather than suing to protect their property, should have their patents revoked. Patents are only around to protect inventors, not to make the inventor money (that's what the invention is for).
  • by payndz ( 589033 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:23PM (#7897948)
    So presumably they'll also be sueing Panasonic over their range of DVD-RAM recorders that do *exactly* the same thing, only they save to a DVD-RAM disc rather than a hard disc. Likewise the assorted combi HD/DVD recorders on the market from companies like Philips and Thomson, among others. And in the UK, they'll also be sueing Sky (AKA News Corporation... so rather a big hitter) over their Sky+ boxes, which basically do everything a Tivo does, except that Sky+ is still in business here and Tivo isn't.

    I liked the idea of Tivo (though not enough to take out a subscription even when they were in business in the UK... I don't watch *that* much TV) but this lawsuit has instantly turned me against them. Claiming IP/patent rights over an *idea* rather than a *technique* is exactly the kind of bullshit thinking that is going to kill off innovation in the West and allow countries like China and India to squash us in the future even as they laugh at our unbelievable stupidity in letting lawyers rule the roost.

    Once a company starts bleating about "intellectual property" and issuing lawsuits to protect it rather than actually making a product that people want to buy, then it's doomed. Last I heard, this was a free market. If not enough people want to buy Tivos to keep the company in business, then fuck 'em.

    (But in true SCO style, it probably means their share price will rise, so invest now before the company dies its inevitable hideous death!)

    Who's the boss of Tivo? Is he going to become the new Darl?

  • by jesser ( 77961 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:34PM (#7898050) Homepage Journal
    it could make Tivo a target for buyout by large copyright holders. If you can't outlaw digital time-shifting, owning a patent on it is the next best thing.
  • by randyest ( 589159 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:35PM (#7898060) Homepage
    Tivo was out in front on this technology and whether or not we like it, the only way that tech companies can innovate and still survive is to defend their intellectual property. They put a lot of work into their system and it's not fair for someone else to come along and steal their ideas.

    So, you think that this is a valid patent? TiVo implements a mechanical tape VCR using digital storage and processing, and suddenly an old idea with loads of prior are is patent-worthy?

    I like TiVo too, but I think your bias is clouding your reason. Whoever made the first VCR should own this patent, if anyone. Moving an old idea to a new implementation is not patent-worthy, IMHO.
  • by AbbyNormal ( 216235 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:38PM (#7898093) Homepage
    First, I believe the technology had been around before Tivo's time. (Virage/Autonomy/ research at MIT...anyone else in the field car to comment?)

    I agree with your argument, BUT then you argue...
    " and if they were, they didn't patent that feature - TiVo did"

    and "This is the sort of thing patent law was designed for".

    Sure, but if (if if if) Tivo knew about the prior art, filed the patent anyway and is now suing competitors because their current marketshare is dimminishing, then YES they are like SCO. Patent law, in that case, would still be crap.

    Also, even if they had owned their patent for " a long time" doesn't mean they deserved it rightfully in the first place (prior art). If they did, then bravo, they really are innovative.

    Its now up the court to decide.
  • Not really SCO (Score:4, Insightful)

    by k98sven ( 324383 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:38PM (#7898099) Journal
    This is not really an "SCO approach" type thing, because unlike SCO, they do have a leg to stand on.
    (Given the validity and applicability of their patent)

    To begin with, unlike SCO, we know what the supposed infringement IS.

    The SCO case is about breach of contract. Although the "going after end-users" the managment keeps spouting out is about copyright.
    That is ludicrous.. end users have no liability in such a case, since they did not commit the infringement.
    (much like a magazine subscriber is not liable if the magazine prints a plagarized story)

    In patent cases, this is different. Noone has the right to use patented technology without licence. There is such a thing as contributory infringement concerning patents, which means that you can be liable even if you didn't commit the actual patent infringement.

    On the other hand, going after consumers is a bad idea. Not only PR-wise, but there are also laws in place to protect the consumer. So that's very unlikely.
    Also, there's no money in sueing private OSS developers.

    Anyway, there are a few options here:

    They back down and pay for a license

    They get lawyers and try to get the the patent invalidated in court

    If 2 fails, you can either:

    Pay for a license

    'Break' the patent, find a workaround with the same functionality which isn't covered by the patent.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:41PM (#7898122)
    Yeah, it's valid. The fact that they can play and record simultaniously breaks your tape-based VCR analogy. It's a pretty slick idea. Plus, you don't have to convince me or the other slashdotters, you need to convince the patent office.
  • by servoled ( 174239 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:48PM (#7898194)
    Reading the claims (Timewarp Patent), it is pretty easy to see that a VCR does not record the signal to an encoded format, and then decode the signal back into a NTSC/PAL signal before sending it to the tv. As far as I know the video out of the VCR basically works like a coaxial splitter when the VCR is recording a channel.
  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:49PM (#7898200) Journal
    1. commercial-skip is available on vcrs as well.
    2. TiVOs patent is from 1998. I was able to record, time-shift, simultaneously record/play back the same show, pause playback, skip commercials, or rewind while recording, etc., in January of 1996, and others friends were able to do it before me (bought an ati PC2TV after seeing a friends back in 1995). So people were doing this at least 3 years before TiVO got its' patent - and they were doing it with off-the-shelf components and software. Sounds trivial to me.
    3. TiVO is doing random access of media. Same as any CD owner. Or even a vinyl lp owner. Nothing new there.
    TiVO is trying to "monetize it's IP", and they'll end up like SCO because energy and resources spent on this sort of stupidity (fighting over improperly-granted patents) takes away from improving the product that is the reason for their existence, same as SCO.
  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:55PM (#7898255) Journal
    TiVO wasn't "way out in front" with their technology. They were granted a patent in 1998. Those of us who had video capture cards before then were able to do the exact same things TiVO now claims to have "invented".

    All TiVO did was repackage existing technology. Anyone could (and some of us did) timeshift with PCs, and yes, we could capture the stream to disk, and simultaneously play it back several minutes later so we could skip the commercials. Or rewind it. Or pause it. All while the computer continued to record the show to disk.

    Sorry, but their patent is bogus.

  • Funny /. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tit0.c ( 245434 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @09:11PM (#7898406)
    Heh, its funny how some companies we like can defend their intellectual property while others we dont are a bunch of tossers for trying to "imprison information and stifle innovation"..
    Hmm...wonder if the reaction would be the same if tivo were going after some linux pvr solution offering timeshifting..
  • by Mal Reynolds ( 676267 ) <> on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @10:41PM (#7899116)
    Tivo and Replay TV own a majority of the patents covering this technology, so it's not at all surprising they are attempting to receive their due licensing fees.
    Tivo and Replay TV have a patent sharing agreement among themselves, but it does not carry over to other manufacturers. Between them they own enough patents to have virtual control over the technology.
    The reason I suspect they're moving now is because many of the big cable and satellite companies have built PVR functionality to their set top boxes. The nationwide releases of such products from Comcast and Echostar has already started. If it goes well, as I suspect it will, the rest of the cable world will not be far behind.
    If Tivo and Replay were to allow their technology to be "rented away" in cable company set top boxes, it would likely put Tivo and Replay out of business.
    I expect Replay and Tivo will both try to receive license payments from any cable companies rolling out cable-box PVR's. As well they should, they each have a very full patent portfolio covering the technology.
    Bottom line, why in the world should the big cable and satellite companies get a free ride, and not have to pay for technology they didn't even develop?
    Because no matter what happens in regards to licensing, the cable co's are going to make one heck of a lot of money renting these set-top PVR's. So why shouldn't the legitimate patent holders, Replay and Tivo, at least receive some licensing fees for having developed the technology in the first place? That's what patents are all about after all.
  • by SewersOfRivendell ( 646620 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @11:54PM (#7899743)
    Read the damn patents already. Someone linked to them above. They're extremely specific, as good patents should be. If EchoStar so chose, it could get around at least one of the patents by using an encoding scheme other than MPEG-2 to store the data.
  • by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @12:07AM (#7899836)
    So, you think that this is a valid patent? TiVo implements a mechanical tape VCR using digital storage and processing, and suddenly an old idea with loads of prior are is patent-worthy?
    As a matter of fact, you could implement an actual mechanical VCR, with exactly the same capabilities as existing VCRs, and it would be patent-worthy if you came up with a novel method of accomplishing those same functions. JVC did exactly this when they patented VHS, even though Sony already had a VCR patent. This was possible because patents cover a specific method of doing something, not merely the idea of doing it. So if you come up with a new way of doing something familiar, you can get a patent on it.
  • by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @12:14AM (#7899882)
    TiVO wasn't "way out in front" with their technology. They were granted a patent in 1998. Those of us who had video capture cards before then were able to do the exact same things TiVO now claims to have "invented".

    So back in 1995 or '96, when TiVo presumably filed for the patent, anybody with a videocard and a relatively low-powered PC could digitize TV while simultaneously playing back? Keep in mind that TiVo's patent presumably covers not merely the concept of digitizing TVs, but the software methods and data structures that make it efficient enough to implement on a device that sells for a couple of hundred bucks.

  • by nvrrobx ( 71970 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @12:27AM (#7899959) Homepage
    Yes, but the way patent law works, you can be granted a patent for finding a new way to use existing technology.

    Had anyone made a package, with a remote control, that allowed you to sit on your couch while your PC handled all the timeshifting stuff with the press of a remote control?

    If the answer is no, then this patent is valid.
  • by Quarters ( 18322 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @12:34AM (#7900014)
    This does not mean that they'll be going after every DVR producer, only those who copied TiVo without adding any thought of their own.

    It doesn't even mean that. One more time, class: "Trademarks have to be protected & defended. Patents are selectively enforceable by the patent holder"

    TiVO can sue the bejeezus out of Echostar and then just shut up and never bother to use the patent against anyone else ever again.

  • Re:Funny /. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MemoryAid ( 675811 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @01:45AM (#7900389)
    It is, in fact, interesting to see what sides /. takes in any given intellectual property issue. If every patent infringement suit were treated the same, we wouldn't even care about the details. The fact that the relevance of the details is being debated here says something, at least.
  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @08:59AM (#7902040)
    If it was so obvious, why didn't you or any other person patent it first?

    Maybe it was so obvious he did come up with it first. And likely realized it was so obvious it wasn't patentable, and so didn't even start the footrace to the patent office, much less win it. Or maybe he did try to patent the idea despite its obviousness, and despite having invented the idea first, lost the footrace to the patent office because his postal worker took a coffee break and the patent application didn't get shipped across the country in that day's mail.

    In this day and age, when dozens of people independently "invent" the same thing more or less at the same time simply because it is an idea whose "time has come" (the pieces and infrastructure that make the realization of that idea are in place for the first time), it is the corporation with the fastest lawyers who wins the footrace to the patent office, denying any other inventors of the same technology the right to use their own inventions, much less anyone else from building upon them.

    The number of patents for non-obvious methods are vastly outweighed by the number of obviouse, trivial, unenforcable patents that are issued and that remain profitable because challenging them in court is just too damn expensive, and there are just too many tens of thousands of the fucking things (enough to bankrupt the entire GDP in litigation costs if they were all to be challenged).

    The result? Our free market of competition of free no more: it has been reduced to a planned economy of entitlement monopolies, and the stock market little more than a glorified futures market on said monopolies (at least in the medical and technical arenas).
  • Re:Nonsense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @01:22PM (#7903863)
    Yeah, and those lame ass Wright brothers patented an airplane. I mean they just used a bunch of commodity materials (wood, metal, canvas), the brilliant inventions of chain drive, internal combustion motors, and, get this... a rail.

    Hardly a valid comparison. MPEG2 was specifically designed for the purpose of recording interlaced television; this was long before Tivo existed. When this codec was being devised, the developers anticipated that it might be used to record files to some sort of fixed digital storage-- thus, they implemented block formats that make it possible to pause and skip forward and backwards (you see this in DVDs and other media that pre-exist Tivo.) I even saw a number of hard-disk-based recorders implemented in research laboratories prior to Tivo's commoditization of same.

    So the question now becomes: what is Tivo's "original" claim? The ability to record TV? No, that's what MPEG was designed for. The file system? Perhaps their implementation is original, but the concept of such a filesystem is nothing new-- it was anticipated in the MPEG2 design. The ability to record and play back a show at the same time? Well, here's a hint: The off-the-shelf to use in the original Tivo provided for simultaneous encoding and decoding. Now think about that; if the ability to record and play back simultaneously was so original, why would this sort of commodity hardware exist? It was specifically designed to do what Tivo claims is "original".

    I don't dispute that the original Tivo did something that nobody else had done in the past. I'm only arguing that it was an incremental development, more of commoditizing pre-existing hardware devices and providing a neat interface. A more apt analogy would be if the Wright brothers had simply bought all the parts for their airplane kit off the shelf-- wings, aelerons, rudder, engine, all very coincidentally designed to be assembled together into an aerborne vehicle. Would we consider their flyer an original invention, just because they marketed it first?

  • Re:Uh oh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WNight ( 23683 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @02:44PM (#7904773) Homepage
    Did they market something novel and useful, or did they invent a novel and useful technology to make their device function?

    They should only get the patent if the technology involved is new. If they're simply the first people to think of using a HD in an embedded device instead of a spool of tape (or whatever) they don't deserve the idea because reading and writing to the same file (or different files) is something computers have been doing for years. And any engineer who was asked how to do this could have told them how.

    Their competitors somehow came up with the same technology (or Tivo wouldn't be threatening to sue). Did this happen because all their engineers invented the same non-obvious technology, or was it just really obvious once you use an embedded computer?

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI