I have a special passion for, and sympathy for, designers of DVRs and equipment incorporating EPGs (electronic program guides.) Perhaps it's because I worked in that industry for seven years. Or perhaps it's just because I'm such a fan of these TV recording and navigation products, and am frustrated by how hamstrung product designers have become by the litigious waters they swim in.
So the news that Gemstar, after a multi-year hiatus in which they reorganized and ejected legendary founder Henry Yuen, is back filing lawsuits against those who dare to offer an EPG not licensed by Gemstar is more than a bit disappointing. (See reports in Communications Engineering Design and Broadcasting & Cable.)
Having extracted roughly $40 million from Microsoft back in the 90s, Gemstar is now taking on the other half of the original Microsoft duo, Paul Allen, by suing Digeo and indirectly, Charter Communications, his cable company, which uses Digeo's Moxi guide.
The notion that a kinder, gentler Gemstar had emerged from their financial travails was apparently more wish than reality.
Between Gemstar's claims to own the essence of what an EPG does, and TiVo's claims to own the essence of what a digital video recorder (DVR) does, I pity today's designers of video equipment. In an era that should be rife with innovation, we find a chilling atmosphere in which only very deep-pocketed enterprises dare tread the waters.
Fortunately, as I reported last month from IBC in Amsterdam, this highly litigious atmosphere appears to be limited to the U.S. market. Elsewhere, it would appear, DVR designers feel free to incorporate EPGs and hard disk recording in their equipment without fear. So much for the notion of America as the "land of opportunity." It has become a land of outrageously over reaching patent claims that have largely gone unchallenged in court, with businesses too often finding it easier to settle out of court rather take on the bullies.