SONICblue Waves Patent In Front Of TiVo’s Face

The rivalry between Digital Video Recorder makers SONICblue and TiVo turned up a notch Tuesday.

With a new U.S. patent in its hand, SONICblue cryptically announced that it would contact its rival about a licensing agreement for its ReplayTV set top box. A spokesperson for SONICblue said that TiVo has been contacted. TiVo disputes the reports that the two companies have been engaged in licensing discussions.

TiVo says the “inaccurate statements” from SONICblue were probably issued after TiVo announced two new patents for DVR players in general this week.

“We have a strong intellectual patent portfolio that protects our technology,” says TiVo CTO Jim Barton.

San Jose, Calif.-based TiVo says it has the copyright to its “TrickPlay,” feature, which covers the use of VCR-like functions (play, pause, rewind) and a methodology patent that includes connecting the set top boxes and other streaming media devices to a home network.

SONICblue says it was awarded its patent number 6,324,338 on November 27, 2001. The copyright covers the fundamental concept of using a channel guide and user specified criteria to select TV and other types of shows for recording. Funny how that sounds just like what they do over at TiVo.

“Our patented ReplayTV technology positions us to be the technology leader in the rapidly growing DVR industry,” says SONICblue chairman and CEO Ken Potashner. “We expect licensing opportunities to augment our product offerings and to generate substantial revenue streams moving forward.”

And forward for SONICblue, according to Potashner means licensing agreements.

If SONICblue draws a line in the copyright sand, lawsuits can’t be far behind. If so, SONICblue’s legal team will surely be getting a workout.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company recently staved off a copyright infringement battle against the major networks over some of its digital video recorders. That dispute dealt mainly with SONICblue’s ReplayTV 4000, which lets customers e-mail recorded programs to each other. SONICblue says the lawsuit helped sales of the units, but it won’t say by how much.

SONICblue only recently got into the interactive television iTV space with the sales of DVR devices equipped with home networking capabilities under the ReplayTV brand, which it acquired last year.

The company mainly focuses on its three principal business units, Rio (digital audio players), frontpath (Internet appliances for the home and business) and Access PDAs.

TiVo meantime has had a boost to its own sales with deals from AT&T Broadband and Sony.

But the legal wrangling may all be for naught if the overall iTV sector continues to slump. A recent study suggesting a lack of interest by consumers for iTV says is that in general, people use TV to relax and are not interested at this time in adding aspects that require activity.

And then there is the Microsoft factor. The company’s UltimateTV still remains the most popular seller in the category.

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