Microsoft this week sued DVR firm TiVo, alleging that the company infringes on several of the software giant's patents. The suit targets such TV-related technologies as the program guide, schedule grid, remote control interfaces, and program delivery, and Microsoft is seeking to bar TiVo from importing and selling its products in the United States.
"The accused products infringe on one or more \\[patent\\] claims," the suit reads. "Microsoft seeks an order excluding TiVo's infringing set-top boxes and associated software and hardware from entry into the United States and a cease and desist order or orders halting the domestic sale of infringing, imported set-top boxes and associated hardware and software."
According to the suit, TiVo is infringing on Microsoft patents related to, among other things, the following technologies:
Electronic program guide—This allows the user to view program schedule information.
Scheduling grid—The program guide is arranged in a grid layout, allowing users to select programs for viewing and recording.
Remote system interface—A graphical interface for controlling a computer through limited devices such as remote controls.
Program guide filtering—The ability to filter the display of a program guide in order to make it more family-friendly or otherwise customized for the viewer.
I take exception with some of the claims in the suit, however, and would point out that Microsoft is guilty of largely ignoring the admittedly excellent software it has developed to compete (unsuccessfully) with TiVo's offerings. Microsoft actually claims that "a significant part of Microsoft's business is the development, licensing, and distribution of software for multimedia content delivery and entertainment." This is probably false, and even the one example cited as evidence of this claim in the suit—Mediaroom—is almost laughable because of it's incredibly low market penetration and revenue generation.
More to the point, at least Mediaroom is an ongoing concern, if a largely ignored one. These technologies were previously developed or acquired for a Windows product called Media Center that Microsoft has basically ignored for several years. This product, which could have easily been adapted to work with popular media delivery systems—such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and others—has instead remained tied to its legacy TV-tuner past and has been barely improved over the past two Windows versions.
Microsoft does offer content delivery through such services as Zune Marketplace, but these services also don't register in any usage share data at all. Instead, Apple largely dominates this market, followed by smaller players such as Netflix and Amazon. These companies make or support set-top boxes that deliver their services to the living room. Microsoft delivers its own services almost exclusively through the Xbox 360 video game console and, to a lesser degree, through Windows-based PCs and the web.
It should be noted that Microsoft's complaint centers on the fact that TiVo makes its set-top boxes outside the United States and feels that TiVo believes this fact makes them immune to US-based patent-infringement claims. Microsoft argues, however, that because these devices and services are sold in the United States, the products are open to patent-infringement claims.
This suit does raise one question: Is Microsoft preparing to make another push at living room content delivery, perhaps one that is based more on integration with popular third-party services? If so, its Media Center and Mediaroom interfaces are indeed excellent and would serve as suitable containers for such services as Netflix, Hulu Plus, and YouTube. The timing is indeed interesting, and perhaps aimed at preventing TiVo from making a similar transition. Despite having a brand that is widely associated with digital video recording, TiVo has always struggled and has generally lost money. In fact, it's lost millions of subscribers over the past three years.
Or it could simply be a cheap money grab. "We remain open to resolving this situation through an intellectual property licensing agreement, and we look forward to continued negotiations with TiVo," a Microsoft spokesperson told Bloomberg.