What has become of the notorious Gemstar EPG patents after Macrovision's recent sales of TV Guide's assets?
I went to CES in Las Vegas last month wondering what was up with Macrovision, and more specifically the Gemstar patents that are considered vital to creating a street-legal EPG, at least for the U.S. market (and more, they'd argue -- see Macrovision CES 2009 road diary) To briefly recap: Macrovision bought TV Guide last year for about three billion dollars. Then, in rapid succession, late last year in December they sold the print magazine for one dollar (yes, just a single dollar -- see TV Guide mag given away as EPGs rule) and then, about three weeks later they sold the TV Guide cable channel and TV Guide.com web site to Lionsgate film (Lionsgate, aka Lions Gate, is reportedly planning a new pay TV channel to compete with HBO and Showtime).
So where did this all leave those Gemstar patents -- including the most notorious claim for generating a simple EPG grid with channels on one axis and times on the other? Right smack in the middle of Macrovision's plans.
I met with Macrovision at CES and, as explained to me, they sold the web site but held onto the listings service -- providing the raw data for EPGs -- and they continue to provide interactive program guides to the cable-TV industry, including TV Guide-branded EPGs and the widely deployed Passport-brand interactive program guides. And they have retained the entire patent portfolio, making Lions Gate licensees of their patents in the web site transaction.
Most important to designers of STBs, DVRs and other home video devices: Macrovision says they will license their listings data, their technology, and their patents to all who want them, and though we did not get into details on pricing, they say it's all reasonable.
This is quite different from the Gemstar of a decade ago, who was notorious for not returning phone calls from designers looking to license their patents, and who sued anyone with deep enough pockets and the nerve to go ahead and make an EPG without Gemstar's blessing.
So it appears that the long and often outrageous saga of the Gemstar patents has finally come to a near-end. (Just in time, too -- now TiVo appears to have stepped up to the litigation plate, with their long-running battle with Echostar over DVR patents.) Unfortunately, with Replay long bankrupt, with TiVo barely staying alive, with Moxi just re-launched to consumers, and with the economy in a mess, this might not be the best time to introduce new consumer DVR technology in the U.S. But it's nice to know the opportunity is there -- and now, thanks to the kinder and gentler "Gemstar," you don't have to risk a lawsuit to do it.