iTV Player OpenTV Sues Rival Liberate

Interactive television middleware player OpenTV is taking its rivalry with Liberate Technologies to the courts, charging it with patent infringement.

Mountain View, Calif.-based OpenTV filed a suit in federal court in California that alleged that Liberate’s system for delivering interactive TV content to set-top boxes infringed on U.S. Patent Nos. 5,819,034 and No. 5,563,648.

Both patents, which were filed in 1994, protect processes used in delivering interactive TV overlays and channel guides. Patent No. 819,034, “Apparatus for transmitting and receiving executable applications as for a multimedia system,” describes the technique for repetitive distribution of iTV programs, in a process known as “carouseling.” No. 5,563,648, “Method for controlling execution of an audio video interactive program,” covers how such programs are loaded, executed and terminated.

OpenTV is asking the courts for an injunction and monetary damages.

“OpenTV is the owner of pioneering inventions in the field of interactive television,” said OpenTV general counsel Jesse Berg. “This technology and the related intellectual property are key business assets of OpenTV, and we believe that the company has a duty to its shareholders to protect the value of these assets.”

San Carlos, Calif.-based Liberate, which said it has not reviewed the suit in detail, responded by saying it sees the charges as unfounded.

“We have no reason to believe that we infringe the patents cited … or that these patents are even valid,” said Liberate chief executive Mitchell Kertzman. “Liberate has a strong foundation of intellectual property from unique work developed by our engineering teams and we will defend this suit vigorously.”

The resolution of the suit could have important implications for the tiny interactive TV sector, which many industry experts predict will explode in coming years. Both Liberate and OpenTV make software used by cable and satellite companies and broadcasters to embed Web-like codes in their signals. Ultimately, pundits believe that advanced forms of television-based advertising and e-commerce could come about as a result of the technology, which to date has established little traction in the U.S.

In many ways, patent lawsuits have become a rite of passage for emerging technology markets, especially in the Internet sector. PC software makers, e-commerce firms and advertising technology players, for instance, have all taken their turn doing what they describe as protecting their patents. Recently, for instance, ad network 24/7 Real Media sued rival ValueClick, continuing the nearly three-year-old rash of patent lawsuits among online advertising servers.

Still, with the rapid pace and ever-escalating complexity of technological advancement, a host of critics have contended that the patent system is being unfairly abused. One major instance occurred when publisher Tim O’Reilly widely criticized’s One-Click patent, which protected e-commerce purchases made through a single click, and which the e-tailer used in a suit against competitor

Kertzman, along those lines, suggested that OpenTV’s claims for patent protection were flawed.

“We are seeing an increasing abuse of software patent litigation attempting to accomplish in the courts what competitors have failed to achieve in the marketplace,” he said.

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