Motorola Takes TiVo to Court Over DVR Patents

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Over the past several years, TiVo (s TIVO) has been more successful at litigating its DVR technology than selling it to consumers, something that has helped keep the firm alive despite hemorrhaging subscribers. After winning a patent infringement lawsuit against Dish Network (s DISH) and Echostar, (s SATS) the DVR maker set its sights on other companies that provide time-shifting technology to their customers, taking IPTV providers AT&T and Verizon to court.

Well now Verizon is getting some help in its case, with Motorola Mobility (s MMI) filing its own patent infringement suit against TiVo late last week. Since Verizon doesn’t supply any time-shifting technology itself, but relies on Motorola for its DVRs and set-top boxes, the technology vendor is stepping up and asserting patents it says were filed back in 1995 — two years before TiVo was even founded. Those patents were filed and awarded to General Instrument engineers who went on to form Imedia, which is now a subsidiary of Motorola’s set-top business.

Motorola is asserting General Instrument/Imedia intellectual property that includes U.S. Patent Nos. 5,949,948; 6,304,714 and 6,356,708. Those patents cover technology used in Verizon’s set-top boxes, Motorola claims. Motorola claims its patents pre-date those in the case against Verizon, as TiVo’s “Multimedia Time Warping System” patent was originally filed in 1998.

TiVo was awarded $200 million in its case against Dish and Echostar, which might be one reason it decided to take on AT&T (s t) and Verizon (s vz). While TiVo has received backing from the patent office in its case, the case is still under appeal. While Motorola is countering with its case against TiVo on behalf of Verizon, Microsoft — which supplies the software used by AT&T U-verse DVRs — had previously filed a lawsuit against the DVR maker.

There’s a lot at stake in TiVo’s lawsuits against IPTV providers, especially since the DVR provider has lost more than a million subscribers over the last 18 months. The DVR firm is down to 2.3 million subscribers, from a high of about 4.4 million back in 2007. TiVo lost $20.6 million in the third quarter 2010, on sales of $51 million. TiVo reports fourth-quarter and full-year 2010 earnings on Tuesday.

Picture courtesy of Flickr user rafaelmarquez.

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