Dish's DVR Boat Anchors

Unless Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) is successful with its threat to take the TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) "Time Warp" patent case all the way to the Supreme Court, it appears that the satellite giant and its distributors could be saddled with some useless "infringing" satellite receivers with on-board digital video recorders (DVRs) after all.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. denied Dish's request for a rehearing in the TiVo case. At the time, Dish reiterated that the court's decision would not affect its DVR customers because engineers had devised and deployed some "next-generation" software that works around the TiVo patent. (See The Final Chapter?)

After further review, Dish altered its position a bit, though it still appears that all of its existing DVR customers should be in the clear.

In a "clarification" notice issued April 18, Dish revealed that a handful of older DVR models, including the 721, 921, 942, and Homezone 1022, "did not receive the redesigned software." Homezone is a hybrid satellite TV/DSL service marketed by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). (See AT&T Intros HD Homezone.)

"Because the injunction goes into effect today [April 18], any existing inventory of those models that has not yet been installed or activated for a customer cannot be installed or activated in the field," Dish explained, but did not disclose how many of those models remain in stock and, therefore, cannot be used. However, those models, if they are already installed and activated, "are not subject to the injunction and can continue to be used by customers," the company claimed.

Dish added that eight other DVR models -- the 501, 508, 510, 522, 625, 622, and Homezone 622 and 722 -- have all received the new software and can continue to be sold, installed and activated.

That clarification fine-tuned an earlier notice from Dish, also issued on the April 18, that painted a more dire picture for some of the satellite TV company's DVR subscribers. It stated that Dish and its EchoStar Technologies spinoff were "permanently enjoined from making, using, offering to sell, selling, or importing" in the U.S. eight different models: the DP-501, DP-508, DP-510, DP-522, DP-625, DP-721, DP-921, and DP-942.

"In addition, Dish Network and EchoStar were ordered to disable the DVR functionality in all but approximately 192,000 of the Infringing Products in the field within thirty days of the issuance of the injunction order," Dish's initial notice read.

If Dish's follow-up, clarifying statement is not challenged further, it appears that the ruling involving TiVo's "Time Warp" patent should not affect the satellite company's existing base of DVR customers.

When reached Tuesday morning, a Dish spokesman could not comment beyond the details cited in the notices issued by the company on April 18.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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