A Texas jury has invalidated a patent pertaining to DVR technology, a victory for EchoStar Communications, which was being sued for infringement by the holder of the patent, Forgent Networks. Forgent had been seeking $205 million in damages.
Forgent will appeal the decision.
Only last month, nine companies in the cable industry, also sued by Forgent, paid a combined $20 million to settle their cases. The settlement earned each company a license to the patent. That they paid to settle the case, rather than paid for a license directly, is a fine legal distinction that appears to have an important ramification: even though the patent has been ruled invalid, their money is not refundable.
The nine are: Cable One; Charter Communications; Comcast; Comcast STB Software DVR LLC; Cox Communications; Digeo; Motorola; Scientific Atlanta; and Time Warner Cable. The law firm that won the case for EchoStar said another infringement defendant, DirecTV, paid $8 million to settle.
The patent in question is number 6,285,746, “Computer controlled video system allowing playback during recording.” Although ostensibly for a teleconferencing system, the patent is written broadly enough that Forgent was able to expand its claim to include DVR technology.
“We demonstrated to the jury that Forgent’s patent was void on three distinct grounds: written description, anticipation, and obviousness,” said Rachel Krevans, a partner in Morrison & Foerster, a firm that represented EchoStar in the case. She said EchoStar did not dispute infringement at trial, but instead argued that Forgent’s patent was invalid.
In general, patent-holding companies tend to calibrate their claims to the cost of fighting their claims, explained Charles Barquist, a lawyer with Morrison & Foerster, the firm that argued the case for EchoStar. In other words, companies like Forgent make it cheaper to pay them off than to fight their claims. “This is the kind of calculus companies have to make every day,” he said.
EchoStar, he said, is the rare company which, when it has a belief about a patent – whether valid or invalid - prefers to fight for it.