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Video software

It's On: Verizon-Cablevision Patent Spat Heats Up

Attorneys for Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) are turning up the heat in their patent dispute over set-top software after the companies failed to reach an agreement through settlement talks held earlier this month.

Verizon filed a complaint against Cablevision at the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in March, looking to block its rival from importing three advanced digital set-tops distributed by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)/Scientific Atlanta that, Verizon claims, violate the telco's intellectual property. (See Verizon Lawsuit Targets Cablevision Boxes, ITV.)

Communications between Cablevision and a handful of vendors and suppliers are being linked in the case, according to recent filings at the ITC. Earlier this month, Verizon filed a subpoena against Cisco demanding that the vendor supply all communications involving the ITC complaint that it has had with Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), ActiveVideo , Zodiac Interactive , and TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO).

Broadcom, ActiveVideo, and Zodiac are technology vendors of record at Cablevision, but they are not parties to the ITC complaint. In a separate case, however, ActiveVideo fired a patent suit at Verizon in May, alleging that the telco violated five of its patents related to interactive TV technology. (See Cablevision Tunes Up With ActiveVideo, Cablevision Powers Up for ITV, Cablevision Taps Zodiac For ITV , and ActiveVideo Suit Targets Verizon.)

The ITC dispute involves the interactive program guides that Verizon and Cablevision use for their respective FiOS TV and iO: Interactive Optimum digital cable services. One of the features of the FiOS TV IPG is a carousel function, which allows subscribers to scroll horizontally through several Verizon-delivered interactive TV widgets. (See Verizon Adds Twitter, Facebook to FiOS.)

According to emails between Cisco and Verizon attorneys filed at the ITC, Verizon is asking that Cisco provide documents involving a carousel function contained in its set-top software.

Verizon is also seeking information in the ITC case involving several other digital cable technologies used by Cablevision, including interactive widgets, the ability to connect remotely to a DVR, the ability to access online content through a set-top box, and switched digital video (SDV). According to ITC documents, Verizon is also seeking information involving such Cablevision interactive TV applications as Optimum Autos and Optimum Homes, and its planned PC-to-TV Media Relay Service. (See Cablevision to Deliver Net Content to Set-Tops.)

No settlement
The ITC requires that companies involved in disputes before the commission hold settlement talks before it hears a case. ITC documents show that Cablevision and Verizon were scheduled to hold their second settlement conference before Sept. 10, 2010.

The court-ordered talks apparently did not yield a settlement, as attorneys for both sides continue to litigate, and recently filed a joint motion to extend a deadline for filing documents in the case to Oct. 4. Officials at Cablevision and Verizon declined to comment on the dispute.

According to an ITC filing, initial expert reports from Verizon and Cablevision are due by September 28. On September 14, Verizon and Cablevision filed a joint motion to extend the deadline for each company to respond to requests for information involving the case until October 4. The ITC administrative law judge granted the motion on September 21.

Unless Verizon and Cablevision end up reaching a settlement, the ITC is scheduled to hear the case in January, and issue a decision by August 2011.

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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