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Virgin Media smites TV software patents

Rovi loses in High Court

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A little-reported High Court decision last week has reaffirmed the difficulty of defending software programs.

Virgin Media was sued by Gemstar, now owned by Rovi, for breaching user interface intellectual property it had successfully licensed to other TV operators. Last week the Court sided with Virgin, declaring the patents invalid. One in particular, EP (UK) 1377049, was a computer program and could not be protected, the Judge ruled.

Patent EP0969662 describes a TV listing in grid form, which the Judge said was not a technical effect', while EP1613066 describes an option for recording shows from the EPG. Patent '49 was filed in the pre-Tron era of user interfaces (1991) and describes:

Screen (10) for a user interface of a television schedule system and process consists of an array (24) of irregular cells (26), which vary in length, corresponding to different program lengths of one half to one-and-one half hours or more. Because of the widely varying length of the cells (26), if a conventional cursor used to select a cell location were to simply step from one cell to another, the result would be abrupt changed in the screen (10). By restricting cursor movements to the regular cells, abrupt screen changes will be avoided. A conventional offset shadow (34) which is a black bar underlines the entire cell and wraps around the right edge of the cell. To tag the underlying position which defines where the cursor (32) is and thus, where it will move next portions (36) of the black bar outside the current underlying position are segmented, while the current position is painted solid

According to Broadcast TV News, Justice Mann wasn't impressed.

"The patent describes a computer taking some information, getting some input from the user, and then giving the user the information he wants. No more than that." What a refreshing perspective.

Rovi says it will appeal the decision. ®

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