Patent suits hit cable, satellite giants

Acacia Technologies, which says it owns streaming video, sued porn companies last year over the technology. Now it's cable TV's turn.

John Borland Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Borland
covers the intersection of digital entertainment and broadband.
John Borland
2 min read
A company that claims to own patent rights in virtually all Internet streaming media services has sued the largest cable and satellite TV companies in the United States.

Acacia Research, a Los Angeles-based patent-holding company, contends that the big television companies, ranging from Comcast to the DirecTV Group, are infringing on patents Acacia holds for governing the transmission of audio and video content over the Internet, cable lines and satellite feeds.

The company has spent much of the last two years litigating against providers of online adult video services, while seeking licenses from a broader range of Internet companies, as well as the cable services.

Tuesday's lawsuits, however, do not represent the breakdown of discussions with those companies, Acacia said.

"Litigation in many of these patent disputes is just another step along the way in the process," said Rob Berman, Acacia's general counsel. "Some companies prefer the cover of litigation before entering into license agreements."

Acacia's actions have been among the most sweeping of a recent generation of patent claims that have targeted many of the most basic Web and Internet technologies, ranging from vital Web browser features to the process of downloading updates to antivirus programs.

The Los Angeles company has already won licenses from 123 companies and organizations, including Walt Disney and Radio Free Virgin. It has pursued a strategy of moving to progressively larger organizations, starting almost wholly within the adult video business, and then rippling out to Internet and offline giants.

Its approach, in which it typically has asked for a small percentage of revenue, has triggered waves of concern among smaller companies with tiny profit margins, such as independent Internet radio stations.

However, most resistance has come from inside the adult-content industry, where at least some companies have banded together to fight the litigation. Acacia is currently in the process of seeking a rare "defendant class action" status for its lawsuits against those companies, which?-if granted-?would allow it to add hundreds or thousands of other small online adult-video operators to that lawsuit.

The patents, according to Acacia, cover almost all instances of transmitting compressed audio and video, whether online or through a cable or satellite network. The lawsuit covers some aspects of basic cable, as well as on-demand movie services, Berman said.

Tuesday's lawsuit was filed against Comcast, Charter Communications, DirecTV, Echostar Communications, Boulder Ridge Cable TV, Central Valley Cable TV, Seren Innovations, Cox Communications, and Hospitality Network, a Cox subsidiary that provides in-room hotel movies. Acacia could add more cable companies to the lawsuit later, as it has done with its adult industry litigation, Berman said.

The suit could lead to an expensive fight for Acacia if the larger companies choose to dig in their heels. Already some indications are pointing that way.

"We vigorously dispute the allegations, and we will defend ourselves," Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said.