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Widevine plays patent card, again; nets Cablevision VOD 'watermarking' deal

Tue, 02/20/2007 - 6:31am
Jeff Baumgartner, CED

Widevine Technologies has secured a new patent that could play an important role in downloadable conditional access systems being developed by vendors and the MSO-backed, but still quiet Polycipher project, according to company CEO Brian Baker.

Widevine, which has secured seven U.S. and international patents, said its latest issued patent covers selective encryption of multimedia content, including how encryption is applied to content so it remains secure when it is stored on a video server (for VOD and network DVR applications), as well as hard drives for PCs and more traditional digital video recorders.

Moreover, Widevine said, the patent uses a single encryption method for transporting content securely over various network transport platforms - including cable, telco, satellite, mobile and the Internet - to a range of end devices, including set-tops, DVRs, PCs and mobile devices.

"It has certainly been suggested to us that Polycipher may have interest in our intellectual property," Baker said. "It has also been suggested to us that other content security vendors would have interest in this portfolio as well."

The "others" in this case could include a wide range of CA suppliers, including Motorola Inc. and Scientific Atlanta - the two major cable CA suppliers in North America - as well as NDS Group and Nagravision.

Beyond Broadband Technology LLC (BBT) "is another group that would want to take a good hard look at our IP," Baker said. BBT - a venture formed by three small/mid-sized MSOs - is working on a sub-$100 set-top that features downloadable security.

Widevine, Baker said, is looking to pursue license deals with other conditional access vendors. So far, Widevine has not granted any such licenses to CA companies, but it has sold about 1.8 million licenses for clients (set-tops, etc.) that use the company's security technologies.

Baker would not specify how long Widevine might wait to secure licenses before taking legal action against any companies that Widevine believes are infringing.

"It's safe to assume that we'd be willing to protect our [intellectual property] investments to the degree necessary," he said.

This is not the first time Baker has suggested that Widevine's intellectual property could have an impact on Polycipher and vendors that are involved in downloadable CA platforms.

Last year, the company announced it had obtained a patent (No. 7,007,170 B2) that covers downloadable conditional access, mobile media digital rights management and copy protection for the hi-def DVD format.

"Many of the technologies we've announced as patented would be absolutely required for a downloadable conditional access solution," Baker told CED at the time. People familiar with Polycipher and its aims at the time said the MSO-backed project is well within its legal means to proceed with a platform of its own, despite Widevine's patent claims.

Although much of Widevine's success with downloadable encryption and security has come from telco customers, the company is starting to gain some traction on the cable front with its "Mensor" digital watermarking technology.

In addition to a deal with VOD content aggregator TVN Entertainment that was announced in 2005, Widevine, according to Baker, has also signed on to supply its watermarking technology to Cablevision Systems Corp. Cablevision is the first cable operator to use Widevine's watermarking technology, Baker said.

Digital watermarking is designed to embed specific information into a digital file. That information, which survives recompression and redistribution, can be particularly helpful if authorities are trying to trace stolen or pirated content.

Because of an extra layer of protection that would allow content owners to trace content to the source in a case of potential piracy, studios could be more willing to offer movies - including titles in high-definition - and other content to operators in earlier windows, Baker suggested.

That same watermarking technique could also be applied to network-based DVRs, Baker noted.

Cablevision has postponed the launch of its ambitious Remote Storage-Digital Video Recorder (RS-DVR) pending the resolution of a programmer- and studio-led lawsuit against the operator.

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