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TiVo's latest victory over Comcast at the ITC appears to be a hollow one

TiVo claimed victory Thursday after the International Trade Commission reaffirmed a ruling last year handed down by an ITC administrative law judge that Comcast's X1 platform infringed on certain intellectual property held by Rovi, a TiVo subsidiary.

But a closer look at that claim indicates it's a somewhat hollow victory for TiVo in part because Comcast has long removed the feature in question.

Per the initial determination made last June, the judge found no violation on two of three patents addressed (five other patents asserted in this particular ITC case had already been tossed out). The part of the ruling that stuck centered on Rovi/TiVo US patent No. 7,779,011: "Method and system for dynamically processing ambiguous, reduced text search queries and highlighting results thereof."

The '011 patent applied to a relatively minor feature in Comcast's X1 platform that highlighted search results when users entered inquiries into the system with the cable operator's remote control. Comcast confirmed that the feature has already been excised and that disabling it does not prevent search results from being presented.

TiVo shares were unmoved on the final ITC ruling, sticking at $6.50 each in after-hours trading Thursday.

TiVo and Comcast had different opinions on the consequences of today's final ITC ruling. TiVo believes it's a big deal while Comcast says it really amounts to nothing.

"This is yet another win for TiVo – our second victory against Comcast this year," Arvin Patel, EVP and chief intellectual property officer at Rovi Corp., said in a statement. "Today's final determination in our second ITC case against Comcast reaffirms that Comcast's X1 entertainment experience continues to violate TiVo's patent rights. These rulings confirm that Comcast is subject to the ITC's jurisdiction and cannot avoid liability for infringing TiVo's patents."

"Rovi is once again misleading the public about its litigation with Comcast," a Comcast spokesperson said in a statement. "Today's order will have no impact on either our customers or our business. Rovi has admitted – and the ITC ruled – that our current system is non-infringing since we previously removed the insignificant highlighting feature related to the patent addressed in this ruling."

TiVo's Patel shot back with this: "It's unfortunate that the real losers today are Comcast's customers, who lose a valuable feature of their viewing experience because Comcast is unwilling to pay fair value for the technology. Comcast has now been forced by the courts to remove valuable search features from its products. Comcast's response is not surprising as this is the second ITC case they’ve lost this year."

Lengthy litigation
So far, neither side has blinked.

TiVo, which is in the process of merging with Xperi, has pledged to continue to sue Comcast until the operator enters a "fair licensing agreement with TiVo and pays us what it owes."

Speaking on an earnings call last August, TiVo CEO Dave Shull said his company will keep the legal heat on until Comcast comes to heel, asserting that TiVo has "hundreds of patents that we believe are valid against Comcast."

Comcast, whose license with TiVo/Rovi expired on March 31, 2016, has argued that it developed the technologies underpinning X1 in-house while holding that TiVo's asserted intellectual property is out of date.

The ITC's final ruling on this matter merely resolves just one aspect of ongoing litigation between TiVo and Comcast that has been fought at the ITC and in civil courts. A final decision in yet another ITC investigation into allegations against Comcast is expected in Q4 2020. That case centers on cloud and DVR recording systems, according to Bloomberg.

Last fall, Comcast restored a remote DVR recording function for video streaming apps for web browsers and mobile devices after two TiVo patents expired. Comcast had pulled that function from its Xfinity Stream app in November 2017 following a limited exclusion order from the ITC favoring TiVo.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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