Quibi is embroiled in a legal tussle centering on a key technology that will help power its premium, short-form, mobile-focused video streaming service set to launch April 6.
In a complaint filed Monday with a California court, Quibi is seeking a declaratory judgment that its "Turnstyle" technology does not infringe on a patent owned by Eko, a company that has developed an interactive storytelling platform and original shows/series such as Wizard School Dropout and Timeline.
As a critical component of Quibi's new mobile streaming service, Turnstyle is designed to seamlessly maintain the full-screen experience as content is viewed in portrait or landscape mode on a mobile device. Quibi demonstrated the technique during a CES keynote on January 8, 2020. Turnstyle will be used to present Quibi's lineup of TV shows, movies and news programs as well as ads. Here's a demo of Turnstyle in action:
Quibi said it filed the complaint against Eko following a demand letter sent to Quibi two weeks after its CES demo alleging that certain Quibi employees who previously worked at Snap obtained unspecified "trade secrets" and "source code" for Eko's service while at Snap. Quibi claims that Eko's allegations are "untrue and implausible on their face," as both employees referenced by Eko are not engineers or computer programmers and do not read source code.
Quibi claims that Eko, an interactive video technology company with a presence in New York and Tel Aviv, Israel, "embarked on a campaign of threats and harassment to coerce money or a licensing deal from Quibi."
According to Quibi, Eko's alleged wrongful activities include claims that Quibi is infringing on an Eko patent and misappropriating trade secrets. Quibi also alleged that Eko submitted a complaint to the Apple App Store in early March in an attempt to derail the launch of the Quibi app, and that Eko pitched the Wall Street Journal and Recode on "the false narrative" that Quibi is infringing on Eko's intellectual property.
The Eko patent in question – US No. 10,460,765 – describes "Systems and Methods for Adaptive and Responsive Video." Per the patent abstract, "during playback of the video, a change in one of the device properties is detected, and the video is seamlessly transitioned to a second state based on the change." Eko's '765 patent was issued on October 29, 2019.
Quibi claims its technology was developed independently and without using any Eko trade secrets. Quibi also notes it was issued a "media content presentation" patent – US No. 10,554,926 – on February 4, 2020, that describes the technology underpinning the Turnstyle technique.
Via its complaint, Quibi is seeking to enjoin Eko "from taking any further steps to improperly tarnish Quibi's brand or to interfere with Quibi's highly anticipated launch."
'Limited contacts' with Eko
Quibi and Eko are not complete strangers. Quibi outlined some of its "limited contacts" with Eko in the complaint:
Eko, which markets a free online tool for content creators called Eko Studio, has been asked for comment.
Update: In a statement sent Tuesday afternoon, Eko labeled Quibi's complaint "nothing more than a PR stunt," and that it is likewise "telling that Quibi filed the motion only after learning the Wall Street Journal was going to publish and article exposing allegations of Quibi's theft of Eko's technology." It also called Quibi's technology "a near-identical copy" to Eko's
The statement continued: "Eko filed for a patent for its horizontal-to-vertical video technology in 2015. Quibi did not file for a patent covering the same technology until May 2019. And, that followed confidential demo by Eko of the technology to key Quibi top executives, including some of Quibi's so-called patent inventors and Quibi chairman and founder Jeffrey Katzenberg."
Eko's full statement can be read below on the message board.
The legal dust-up arrives less than a month before Quibi debuts a service that will cost $4.99 per month with ads, and $7.99 without. Quibi, which has raised about $1.75 billion, will launch with about 50 shows and movies involving major Hollywood talent.
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading