SonicBlue vs TiVo
Santa Clara, CA–based SonicBlue, which owns the ReplayTV brand, has filed suit in a Silicon Valley federal court against TiVo, Inc. The accusation: allegedly ripping off SonicBlue's patented electronic programming guide, a system that allows PVR users to program their machines.
Alviso, CA–based TiVo has issued a counterclaim, accusing SonicBlue of making "false reports" that TiVo had negotiated for the use of ReplayTV technology. TiVo claims that SonicBlue issued the reports "after TiVo announced its own key patent wins, and suggested that the two companies have been engaged in licensing discussions."
The funny business between the two got funnier when Nick Wingfield of the Wall Street Journal revealed recently that a SonicBlue spokeswoman had verified an email exchange from last summer in which the companies' top executives "proposed four scenarios in which the companies could work together," including the possibilities of licensing each other's technology and sharing content. They discussed conserving their resources by having SonicBlue build hardware for both companies, with TiVo concentrating on creating interactive services, according to Wingfield. A merger was also mentioned.
Where the discussions went sour isn't clear from the available reports, but once SonicBlue leaked the news, TiVo CEO Mike Ramsay began denying that that there had ever been any licensing talks between the companies. SonicBlue then launched a patent-infringement lawsuit against TiVo in federal court in San Jose. SonicBlue's miffed CEO Ken Potashner "insisted that TiVo wasn't telling the truth, that there had, indeed, been licensing discussions between the companies for several months," Wingfield reported. The reproduced emails appeared to back his claims.
Both manufacturers have been granted patents for various aspects of PVR technology—50 for SonicBlue, covering the automatic recording capabilities of its ReplayTV 4000, and 64 for TiVo, covering such capabilities as enabling "reliable networking of multiple streaming media devices in the home," and the manipulation of video signals. Lawyers for the two adversaries are going to stay busy for a long time.
SonicBlue is also defending itself in a copyright lawsuit filed by broadcasters over its "networkable PVR," which lets users send recorded programs to others on the ReplayTV system. The broadcasters also want to prevent Replay users from deleting commercials, one of the Replay device's most attractive features, but one that broadcasters fear could lead to loss of advertising revenue.