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SonicBlue challenges TiVo to sign or be sued

License our technology - or else

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SonicBlue last night threatened to take TiVo to court if the digital video recorder company failed to agree to license its DVR technology, for which it was granted a broad patent two weeks ago.

There's certainly a fight brewing between the two companies. SonicBlue's patent award follows its acquisition of TiVo rival ReplayTV earlier this year. The patent filed by ReplayTV covers almost every aspect of using a hard drive to record off-the-air TV programmes, not only manually but through interactive programme guides.

Early yesterday, SonicBlue said it would like to discuss with its rival its ownership of key DVR technologies, essentially to persuade TiVo to license that intellectual property. It said it had approached TiVo with the intention of discussing such a licensing deal.

"We expect licensing opportunities to augment our product offerings and to generate substantial revenue streams moving forward," SonicBlue Chief Executive Ken Potashner said separately.

TiVo already licenses its DVR platform to consumer electronics companies keen to move into this market, most notably Sony. SonicBlue clearly wants to do the same.

Later, after the US stock markets had closed, TiVo responded to SonicBlue's statement with a stern denial that it was in any way "engaged in licensing discussions" with SonicBlue.

SonicBlue quickly came back with a challenge: talk to us - or we'll see you in court. "It's no longer acceptable not to enter into some kind of relationship, or we'll sue them, quite frankly," Potashner said, according to a Reuters report.

If SonicBlue does take legal action, expect TiVo to issue a counter-suit almost immediately after. It said yesterday it had been granted two DVR-related patents. The first covers the application of recorder functions to live TV, allowing users effectively to pause, rewind or spool through a live broadcast. The other centres on connecting a DVR unit to a home network.

TiVo's patents aren't as broad as SonicBlue's, but they are as relevant to SonicBlue's ReplayTV products as they are to Tivo's own. So it's hard to see the case coming to court - both companies will almost certainly come to an out-of-court agreement to cross-license their respective technologies, which is the usual outcome of these cases.

SonicBlue is already facing a significant legal battle with the US TV networks, which allege its ReplayTV 4000 is depriving them of valuable revenue - the machine allows users to automatically zap adverts from recordings. The networks are also suing for contributary copyright infringement, citing the ReplayTV 4000's ability to allow users to share recordings on the Internet. ®

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