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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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  • Uh oh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrPerfekt ( 414248 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @07:54PM (#7897644) Homepage Journal
    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? Or even those OSS apps that make your Linux box into a DVR?

    It's a shame because I like Tivo alot but saying you're not wanting to litigate people while suing them seems kinda silly.
  • Tivo- the new SCO (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@[ ... m ['bar' in gap]> on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @07:57PM (#7897676) Journal
    Time shifting is both obvious and trivial, and hence any patent issued is invalid. Score another clunker for the USPTO.

    So, I guess we'll be seeing more stories about TiVO going down the tubes ... as if it weren't there already (oh, another parallel to SCO).

  • *sigh* (Score:5, Interesting)

    by irokitt ( 663593 ) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `ruai-setirdnamihcra'> on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @07:57PM (#7897677)
    It's about time Slashdot picked up on this. So does this make Tivo a bad guy now? Probably more important though is the effect this might have on the open source time-shifting software out there.
  • by FozzMan ( 23286 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:03PM (#7897737)
    ...and this story worries me. Anybody with some legitamate knowledge have any opinions on this one?

    - fozzy
  • And then... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bongholio ( 609944 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:06PM (#7897771)
    when they win this one who might they sue next? hmmm... [] Probably a good plan on their part to start with the 'little' guys first. ;)
  • by Tacoguy ( 676855 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:14PM (#7897849)
    Hi and color me biased but Charlie Ergen and Echostar built my business only to tear it apart. I was a C-Band dealer for years (Echostar was primary wholsaler) and had a great business only to see them introduce "Dish" that was not available to the dealers that had made them a success.

    I have seen the tactics of Ergen purchasing companies and assimilating technology and in some cases reverse engineering IE:Polaroter

    Go Go TiVo !!

  • Atleast... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by cartzworth ( 709639 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:19PM (#7897905) Journal
    ...he was well spoken and got his real intentions across, unlike the recording industry.
  • Nonsense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dachshund ( 300733 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:22PM (#7897940)
    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.

    So Tivo has patented the idea of recording television using a) a bunch of video codecs they didn't invent, b) a bunch of commodity hardware they didn't invent, and c) the brilliant invention of rewind, fast-forward and get this... pause.

    There are many original and non-obvious aspects to the Tivo design. The ability to record television, and (!!!) play it back at the same time, do not count. Give Tivo this one, within five years they'll be claiming patent infringement against anyone who records TV onto a hard-disk.

    Incidentally, I remember back when Tivo obtained this patent. A bunch of Slashdot commenters-- with a "RTF(Patent)" attitude similar to yours-- made no effort to conceal their contempt for those of us who thought the patent might affect similar (but non-identical) implementations. IIRC, they made a big deal over the precise details in the claims, and how you would have to infringe upon all of those things to merit a lawsuit. Looks like things aren't quite so rosy.

  • by Jonathan Quince ( 737041 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:25PM (#7897977) Homepage

    Does anybody know if there is any kind history between the two companies?

    According to the articles, Echostar has been offering DVR-like capabilities for awhile now; the suit is just based on some of their latest features. And obviously, TiVo has also been in this business for some time. Echostar offers the product with a service, and TiVo offers the product as their primary line of business. In this type of situation, it's only natural that one might approach the other and propose some kind of deal.

    Is there any chance that there is a history of offers/solicitations between the two companies, and that TiVo filed the suit because of being rebuffed?

    (Disclaimer for the attorneys: This is just wild speculation based on the "sniff test". As in, this suit just seems to be a bit too much from the clear blue sky...)

  • Re:In other news... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eyegor ( 148503 ) * on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:30PM (#7898015)
    Sorry... The Japanese have prior art on that one.

    Seriously though, 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.

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I'm a Tivo stockholder and a Tivo user for the couple of years. I'm biased!
  • Re:Tivo- the new SCO (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@[ ... m ['bar' in gap]> on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:38PM (#7898095) Journal
    As I said in another post - they got their patent in 1998, and I was able to timeshift using my pc in January of 1996, and I know others who were able to do that even before - and that includes the ability to watch a show while recording it. As long as the file-sharing semantics were WRITE_SHARE_COMPATIBLE, there was no problem under win31 or win95.

    They're not claiming to have invented the DVR. They're claiming time-shifting, which I'm pretty sure everyone who got one of the early framegrabber cards did so they could impress the shit out of their friends.

    So, not only is it trivial and obvious, but there's a ton of prior art.

  • by Newer Guy ( 520108 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:39PM (#7898110)
    Basically, they've received a patent for the hard drive. Hard drives have always been able to read and write at the same time. In a Tivo (or any other device like it) the video is converted to DATA and stored on an IDE hard drive. Data is data. Period. To have granted this patent in the first place is ridiculous. All this is is a data recorder (read:computer) that has video inputs and outputs.
  • Re:Tivo- the new SCO (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WNight ( 23683 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @08:55PM (#7898265) Homepage
    It's not about the idea. The idea could be old and tired. It's all about the implementation.

    I could come up with a patentable way to catch mice, despite thousands of years of mice catching. Or, I could fail to patent a device for destroying alien invaders, because the "device" is a gun, despite the new use.

    But, what's the chance that Tivo's method pausing live video was so non-obvious that it deserved a patent, yet another company just happened onto it? Given that the first way I'd go about it involves either a HD with a fast seek time, or dual heads, I can't imagine they'd have put much research time into this and thus it can't really be something a skilled professional working in the field wouldn't have come up with as the first obvious answer.

    Ideas aren't protected though. I can see you selling frozen fruit-punch on a stick and duplicate it, provided I figure out for myself how to freeze the punch and make it stay on a stick. Even if your idea is widely thought to be the best idea ever, it's not protected. Your idea on modifying the microwave to send out anti-waves and using a stick made superconductive with some tinfoil and chewing gum, to freeze the punch instantly - that's very likely patentable.
  • by DuckDuckBOOM! ( 535473 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @09:17PM (#7898444)
    Of course, this also seems to indicate that TiVo isn't doing so well these days. I had thought they were doing OK.
    I think you've pegged the reason even meritful patent lawsuits are growing irritating - with so many co's (ab)using the courts as strategic weapons, any co. making this kind of announcement is instantly under suspicion as to its true motives.

    I wonder if it wouldn't be possible to tweak the system to minimize this kind of crap. Maybe a mandatory licensing process that would require a patent holder to issue licenses on demand at a fixed price, that being the lowest price negotiated by a licensee. If the holder cuts a deal with, say, GE for $1/unit royalties, royalties for all other licensees automatically drop to that rate. Plus some practical-use rules to prevent cross-licensing duopolies - use the license or lose it...for that matter, use the patent or lose it. And, while we're at it, patent duration based on a reasonable lifetime for the area of interest - you can still patent software, but the patent is only good for, say, five years. A patent on a building construction method might last 20.

    At any rate, something must be done to return the patent system to its original intent of promoting progress in the sciences and arts instead of stifling it.

  • by zjbs14 ( 549864 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @09:29PM (#7898534) Homepage
    Does anybody know if there is any kind history between the two companies?
    Other than the fact that Echostar's only competitor (DirectTV) just happens to provide Tivo service and equipment as part of their offering?
  • Re:In other news... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dgrgich ( 179442 ) * <{gro.hcigrg} {ta} {werd}> on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @09:49PM (#7898657) Homepage
    Please - not another 'Tivo is just a VCR' Luddite. :) Tivo's patents (specifically 6,233,389 []) uniquely describe a process that they were first to bring to market. For example, the patent I cite describes pretty much the entire Tivo experience. It describes using MPEG2 technology to replace the tape mechanism in a VCR. They were the first to patent this and the first to truly bring it to market. They beat Replay devices to the mainstream market and put a friendly face on what is a slightly tricky technology to describe to non-Tivo experienced folks who don't "get it". My wife was incensed when I bought our first Tivo because she thought it was "just a fancy VCR" - now you'd have to pry it out of her cold dead hands!
  • Re:In other news... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @10:01PM (#7898736) Homepage Journal
    1. Record one show while watching a previously taped show:

    Go Video did this with its dual-transport VCR in the 80s.

    2. Pause live tv:

    This is only new in the video space. In the audio space, these sorts of things have been done for many, many years. It's called a variable digital delay. They're frequently used to allow people to bleep material from live radio shows. There's a lot less control, but the principal is the same. They also did similar tricks using video disc technology back with the instant replays at least a couple of decades ago.

    The TASCAM reel-to-reel decks from decades back must also have been infringing on TiVo's intellectual property, as they had a record head and a play head, with the play head behind the record head. You could listen to the signal being recorded after it was committed to tape. Admittedly, it was only a fraction of a second behind, but people would do things like create a reel of tape that was several seconds long between two recorders and use this for very long audio delays. The only thing you couldn't do was adjust the delay.

    Repeat after me: there is nothing patent-worthy about taking an existing idea and making trivial changes to the medium used.

    3. Record a show after it has already started?

    See the instant replay comment above. Same idea precisely.

    4. Keep one show while recording around it.

    Simple. Buy a VCR that doesn't suck. It's called insert editing. Admittedly, it has to fit in the appropriate gap, but that's just a limitation to the physical medium that is inherently removed by moving to hard disk, not anything interesting or inventive that TiVo has done.

    5. Erasing shows from the middle of the tape?

    Again, buy a VCR that doesn't suck. Insert editing with flying erase heads.

    None of these things you mention are anything short of blatantly obvious. They have all been done for many, many years prior to TiVo. The only thing interesting that TiVo did was to move to hard drive storage. Move along. There is nothing to see here, just a meaningless court battle....

  • Re:In other news... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by twistedcubic ( 577194 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @10:11PM (#7898812)
    Television broadcasting stations have had such technology for a very long time. So Tivo should get a patent because they made a version that's much cheaper?
  • it could make Tivo a target for buyout by large copyright holders.

    This has already begun. CBS (part of Viacom), Showtime (part of Viacom), Disney, NBC (part of Universal), America Online (part of Time Warner), DirecTV (1/3 owned by Fox), and Sony own parts of TiVo Inc []. MPAA is Paramount (part of Viacom), MGM, Sony, Disney, Warner (part of Time Warner), Fox (part of News), and Universal. This leaves MGM as the only MPAA studio without a finger in TiVo.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday January 06, 2004 @10:46PM (#7899154) Journal
    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.

    Heard a story about that. (i.e. I haven't fact-checked this myself...)

    The core of a flashlight battery is a zinc cup full of caustic paste capped by some asphalt-like material, with a carbon rod (wrapped in a bit of hydrogen scavenger if you don't want it to go soft on you under load) stuck down the middle. The cup is the negative electrode and the carbon rod the positive. Power is generated by the paste eating the cup from the inside.

    At one time flashlight batteries were JUST that, wapped in cardboard and maybe with a metal cap over the tip of the rod to improve contact. This caused probles: Since the paste ate the cup, when the battery was nearly gone (but still producing plenty of power) the paste would eat a hole, soak the cardboard, and start destroying the (metal) flashlight.

    Union Carbide (Eveready) "solved" this by guaranteeing that if their batteries ate your flashlight they'd give you another one. Didn't stop 'em eating the flashlights, of course. But they made good on their flashlights. By buying cheap flashlights wholesale. B-)

    Of course everybody was trying to solve this problem. For years. Without success.

    One day one of the engineers came home depressed and his wife (opening one of the newfangled steel cans of veggies for dinner) asked him why he was so down. "Because things weren't going well at work. We can't seem to solve the problem we're working on." he replied.

    "What are you trying to do?"

    "We're trying to find a way to keep batteries from leaking and destroying the flashlights."

    "Well, why don't you seal them in a steel can?"

    And thus was born the Ray-O-Vac sealed-in-steel battery.

    Which they patented.

    And which patent Eveready/Union Carbide challenged as "obvious".

    Judge: "How long did you guys at Ray-O-Vac work on this problem and how much did it cost you?"

    Ray-O-Vac: "This many years, this many dollars."

    Judge: "How long did you guys at Union Carbide work on this problem and how much did it cost YOU?"

    Union Carbide: "That many years, that many dollars."

    Judge: "Doesn't sound obvious to me. Judgement for Ray-O-Vac."

    MOST "AHA!" moments look obvious AFTER the fact.

    = = = =

    Having said that: Emulating something on a computer is IMHO obvious. So is taking advantage of the beneficial side-effects of the fact that you're dealing with an emulation on a computer rather than the thing emulated. Business methods, for instance.

    Example: Use web page forms rather than a phone call or paper mail to do mail-order. Recognize the user by side-effects of his communication (preprinted order forms, recognizing his voice when he calls, browser cookies {which were ALWAYS intended to create a persistent identity across http requests}, ...) and look up his mailing address and credit account yourself, so you don't have to ask him for his credit account number or mailing address with every order. Bingo: One-click shopping.

    Recording a TV signal to disk is half of the obvious emulation of a VCR on a computer. Playing disk data to a TV signal, with ability to pause/skip/fast-forward/fast-reverse is the other half.

    Doing it on a multitasking computer, using separate applications for record and playback, has two side-effects:
    - You can record one show while watching another.
    - You can watch a show WHILE it's being recorded, pausing for munchies and bathroom breaks and skipping/fast-forwarding through commercials up to the real-time point where the show is being recorded and played back with imperceptable delay.

    If I understand the patent correctly, this IS the time-shifting "invention". And as a straightforward emulation of a VCR on a computer it is thus obvious.

    Additional side-effects are that you can record as many shows si
  • Re:In other news... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dfung ( 68701 ) on Wednesday January 07, 2004 @02:04AM (#7900529)
    This thread is making me retch (no, not just this post, but the followups as well).

    Back in the 1980's I worked at Apple when Apple spent a lot of money on all the shiny new professional toys to figure out inspirations for consumer products. This included stuff like a $120,000 Silicon Graphics workstation (the very first model!) and a complete first-generation digital video setup that took D1 cartridges that seemed to be as big as a lunch tray.

    One of the really fun toys was something that actually got a lot of use. It was an Abekas digital frame store. Apple used it to assemble computer graphic animations, frame by frame with no wet film, which was a pretty big deal back then. But most of these units were sitting in trucks at football games, as they were the devices used for the cutting edge slo-motion display.

    Inside the box, it was a flash digitizer and a fast group of hard drives. Outside the box, it looked an acted like a studio VCR, with play, pause, ff, rewind buttons and a big shuttle/jog knob. Video goes in and you can stop or scroll through it, forward or backward or stop with high quality.

    What's a Tivo? It's exactly the same technology that was commonly in use in video production studios for years prior to the formation of the company. I wouldn't be suprised to find that some of the Tivo technologists came from companies that made these sorts of products.

    Time shift and multiple stream input and output are all common features in studio effects boxes and have been for a long time.

    The ability to do this in a consumer device was a reality for a couple years now with three big things coming together to make that happen - 1) relatively cheap large (10's of GB) hard drives, 2)real time compression asics, and 3)Linux which allowed tivo to build a multitasking, multithreaded OS without having to roll one from scratch or pay bucks to Wind River.

    Making the device wasn't novel at all, but it's not suprising that it was patentable because they focused on consumerizing aspects rather than the established technology. And I think the implementation is pretty good.

    The interesting question is whether you ought to be able to get a patent for a system who's prototype can be assembled from existing devices.

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