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TiVo wields patent club against Microsoft

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Silicon Valley executives are often urged to fill those precious moments between the Stairmaster and the early coronary by reading ancient war manuals. We're not sure if any of these contains the advice: "pick your fights carefully", but if they do, TiVo doesn't seem to have reached this page yet.

The company, which pioneered the "Digital VCR", is positively spoiling for a fight with Microsoft...and anyone else who wants to make boxes which decode TV streams, and play them back.

TiVo was granted a patent for a "multimedia time warping system" ten days ago. It has already started brandishing it as a threat against Microsoft's rebranded WebTV flop, UltimateTV and, possibly, future versions of Microsoft's Xbox games console.

"We're going to recommend (Microsoft) examine the patent and see if it does ... so we could work out a licensing deal," TiVo's CTO, Jim Barton, said yesterday.

The sprawling patent - it actually covers 61 separate claims and is available for persusal here - describes TiVo's system of recording live TV streams to a PC with a hard disk. That's all the box is really, underneath the hood.

But so extensive is the filing granted to TiVO, it's difficult to imagine anyone making a digital VCR which doesn't infringe the patent in some way. It's rather like filing a claim for a "motor vehicle" with "wheels", "transmission" and an "engine". Pretty tough to work around, if you want to make a car.

It's likely that ReplayTV, TiVo's erstwhile rival, is also a target. Replay has had some success after it ditched a horizontal sales model, which involved competing head-on with TiVo, for a vertical one, which involves licensing the software to TV OEMs.

An interesting aside to all this is that TiVo opted for Linux as the operating system for its box. Linux's success is of course attributable largely to the absence of, or at least the early resolution of proprietary intellectual property claims. So it's very strange to see TiVo wielding the patent club, isn't it? ®

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