back to article TiVo: Cisco and pals could owe us BILLIONS over DVR patents

Since 2004, Faultline has been championing the idea that someone must have invented the DVR, and that it is a genuine invention, not a set of software patents like the flimsy patents filed by Apple, which we do not believe will ever stand up to scrutiny. And if TiVo genuinely does own those patents, which the last three court …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not sure why?

    "Since 2004, Faultline has been championing the idea that someone must have invented the DVR"

    Why have Faultline been so pervasive in "championing" this idea, I'm not sure what their motivation is. I also won't go to their website to look incase there is anything written that could cause problems for future projects.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not sure why?

      I'm sure a reasonable person would have created a patent system where if you don't claim it you lose it... I mean it seems a bit dishonest for someone to wait 8 years and then go "Oh we owned that, yeah sorry we didn't mention it, now give us all our money..."

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Not sure why?

        I'm sure a reasonable person would have created a patent system where if you don't claim it you lose it

        Yes, because the non-defense principle has led to such reasonable behavior in handling trademarks, for example.

        Patents are filed. There's no reason why someone implementing a device very similar to one already on the market couldn't do a patent search. If Motorola et al weren't aware of TiVo's patents, then they didn't perform due diligence; if they were aware, then they decided to risk being found in violation rather than secure licenses.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    someone must have invented the DVR?

    This item would be more interesting if it explained what Faultline is claiming about 'inventing the DVR'.

    I personally worked on video codec software in 1987 so can say for sure the idea of digitising AV streams to PC or dedicated devices goes back well over 25 years. Replacing analogue tape with digital was a pretty obvious idea in the 80s.

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge

      Re: someone must have invented the DVR?

      ah, but it's not "on an internet", so their patents are bound to be inventive.

      Seriously, I'm surprised the article doesn't list key patents so that we can all have a proper moan with something to get our teeth into - poor show on the author's part. Otherwise we'll have to assume all their patents are "scheduling a recording of a series of shows, automagically amending recording times if scheduling times change" - i.e. flimsy s/w solutions that are quite obvious to solve if you wheel out the concept of an EPG.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: someone must have invented the DVR?

      Digital video goes back to early 1970s or late 1960s.

      The reason it wasn't in the home was cost of disc storage and cost of video DAC/ADC. Decent codecs help dramatically reduce the storage cost. But TIVO can't claim ANY patents on video codecs or video storage on HDD.

      By mid 1980s some PABX used audio codecs and HDD for voice mail. I worked on HW & SW of these and they incorporated most DVR functions apart from EPG scheduling, audio only rather than video.

      VHS machines eventually had "EPG" scheduling via Teletext data.

      1. Infidellic_

        Re: someone must have invented the DVR?

        "VHS machines eventually had "EPG" scheduling via Teletext data."

        Quite, isn't a DVR little more than VideoPlus+ (VCR Plus+ for our American friends) along with PDC and with a Hard Drive instead of a VHS tape? Ok so the scheduling is slightly better integrated but an application of disparate existing inventions is hardly patent worthy. After all Teletext/Ceefax did Now/Next for the 5 basic terrestrial channels

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: someone must have invented the DVR?

      More to the point, digital television dates back to at least ther 1970s, when uncompressed SD was broadcast experimentally on-site at BBC Kingswood Warren.

    4. John Miles 1

      Re: someone must have invented the DVR?

      First 'hard disk digital recorder' ? A company I worked for in 1984 bought a hard disk digital video recording system from a small Californian company called 'PEL' (which went bankrupt shortly thereafter). The system was a bit of a monster - two racks worth. Disk speeds were slow in those days so the video was digitised and streamed to 8 separate disk drives in parallel. There was also another system built by logica that used Ampex multiplatter disks with the video streamed to 8 platters in parallel - that proved unreliable owing to the problem of maintaining simultaneous track alignment across many platters.

      Of course these systems did not have recording scheduling software - but they did record video on hard disks. So there is prior art (and probably some patents).

  3. Lee Dowling Silver badge

    Software patent?

    I lost interest already.

  4. Mage Silver badge

    PVR idea

    Goes back a long long way.. It's only an invention in a sense. The idea is too broad. Only novel and un-obvious implementations should get patents.

    Digital HDD vs Analogue tape only improves the user interface.


      Re: PVR idea

      It's not a hard idea to implement once the right tech is in place. You need large hard drives and fast CPUs. Once you have that, any college kid can recreate a Tivo with some Perl or some C++. The work of Tivo Corp is pretty irrelevant here. Anything they might have created to help deal with resource limitations in the 90s are not really relevant now.

      Some concurrent IO and some database programming and you're there.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple click bait - yawn

    Sad to see The Reg continuing its click bait mission by inserting the word "Apple" into the article subtitle and first sentence, (never to be mentioned again), in an article that has literally nothing to do with Apple.

    And why "Apple"? ...because of course Apple are the only company ever to have applied for and been granted flimsy software patents... </sarcasm>


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apple click bait - yawn

      I've copyrighted the term click bait©

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NDS is owned by Cisco!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: NDS is owned by Cisco!

      See paragraph 6 in this article.

  7. James 100

    Hole in argument

    TiVo's claim to the "invention" are surely dented by most of the core functionality coming as a single ready-made chip from IBM in the early models ("MPEG Trick Play", handling the fast forward/rewind etc)?

    Essentially, it does the same as VCRs had been doing in homes since BetaMax (and TV studios etc long before that), but with the addition of:

    * Programmed recording (VCRs had been doing that for a while already)

    * Time-delay playback (watching a program while you tape it; VCRs can't do it, but studio equipment was doing that long before, surely? Lots of "live" content goes out time-shifted by a few seconds to catch the unexpected.)

    * Simultaneous record (again, one VCR can't do this ... but two VCRs certainly could: is this really novel enough to patent?)

    * User interface stuff. Do we really want to see more of THAT patented!?

    I like TiVo, I like DVRs, but patenting stuff all over the place to extract money later irritates me.

  8. Tom 38 Silver badge

    "Actual technology"

    Recording a transport stream to a disk and then playing it back again is a completely obvious extension of providing digital television in a transport stream. The only people who even remotely deserve a patent for this is the people who thought of digitizing TV.

  9. James Hughes 1

    So what are the patents?

    I also am interested in what they are actually claiming.

    I was working with recording stuff to HDD in the mid/late 90's, both uncompressed (4 drives in parallel for each digitised component stream), then later with compression to one HDD. State of the art stuff then, common place now. Can't remember the name of the company that produced the stuff though - we were integrating in to our studio paint system stuff.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well i wouldn't be suprised if NDS had used unlicensed technology since they are well known to have been instrumental in the breaking of the encyrption used by ondigital and they were at the time owned by news international. Need a say more.

  11. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    A bit of info ...

    Entirely from memory, and dating back a few years to when some of this first "blew up"

    IIRC TiVo weren't claiming a patent on "a DVR" but on certain techniques used by most low cost DVRs. In brief, the main patent is on a technique where the supervisory processor takes care of moving blocks of data to and from disk (using DMA on the hard disk controller). The receiver simply dumps data to a block of memory where it's been told to put it by the processor, and the video decoder streams video from the block of memory it's been told to read from.

    The key patent is on the method whereby the supervisor processor only keeps track of blocks of data, while hardware takes care of moving/converting the data. For playback, the processor merely has to get some data into memory, then instruct the decoder chip to start reading it - feeding new instructions to the decoder as it eats through the data. If (for example) you skip forward, the processor merely tells the decoder to start again at a new address.

    At no time does the processor need to deal with the video/data - only indexes to blocks of data. This means that you only need a low spec (and hence cheap) processor to be able to do some fairly high-end video. Bear in mind that when all this was originally being developed, even "high end" general purpose computers would struggle to do decent video playback.

    I took the trouble to read the actual patent a few years ago when there were cries of "Oh no, TiVo has a patent on handling video" - and in particular there was a discussion about where this left MythTV. It doesn't affect MythTV since Myth doesn't use this method of having a low spec processor that merely tells the decoder where to get the data from - the main CPU actually handles the data and feeds it to the GPU (where hardware decoding is used) or does software decode otherwise.

    These days, I suspect it wouldn't be hard to build a PVR that didn't infringe on TiVo's patent since even low end processors are quite powerful. But the case in the article will be seeking compensation for all those millions of PVRs already sold.

    As an analogy, it's like the difference between a large retailer who handles lots of goods through big warehouses (eg Asda, Amazon) and one who merely operates a marketplace (eg eBay or Amazon marketplace) without actually handling any of the goods itself.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A bit of info ...

      Interesting. As someone posts later in these comments, Tivo was a massive step up from what went before. Even now, some 12 years later, I've not used a PVR that had the quick response and ease of use of Tivo - it never felt slow or underpowered.

      My current Humax Freesat HD pvr (a couple of years old now) feels like an earlier technology rather than one that followed a decade later:

      - pause stops he video a second or two before the audio and doesn't pick up in the same place

      - responsiveness in general is crap

      - it can't queue a second programme for deletion whilst another is being deleted).



    2. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: A bit of info ...

      Given the missing patent references in the article and my inability to find the reference manuals, I can't be sure, but the description in this post seems a lot like what the Next (in 1989) was doing with its DSP chip.

      1. JEDIDIAH

        Re: A bit of info ...

        The description of that Tivo patent sounds like ANY sort of specialized coprocessor.

        In the 90s it was pretty obvious that you needed a MPEG2 coprocessor to do the heavy lifting as CPUs of the time weren't up to the task. This was something I sought out as a standard PC part the moment I was exposed to the "PC as a VCR" concept.

        By 2002 such standard PC components were commonplace. Before analog TV became entirely obsolete, I had a couple such cards.

        Now any Tivo patents are pretty much irrelevant since all TV signals are now already "PVR" ready.

        Tivo's original stuff has been made comlpetely obsolete twice over.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: A bit of info ...

          In the 90s it was pretty obvious that you needed a MPEG2 coprocessor to do the heavy lifting as CPUs of the time weren't up to the task.

          I seem to remember Intel touting MMX as being important here but from memory another reason for external handling (including Intel's own performance chips) were the bandwidth/interrupt limitations of the x86 and ISA bus: other architectures such as the Amiga were already quite adept at video work because they didn't need to pass all the data to the peripherals via the CPU.

    3. Gordon 11

      Re: A bit of info ...

      The key patent is on the method whereby the supervisor processor only keeps track of blocks of data, while hardware takes care of moving/converting the data.

      Sounds like threaded processes and shared memory to me. There may be something magical in the hardware, but the idea isn't novel at all.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A bit of info ...

      Is "using DMA to do what DMA does" their original, non-obvious invention or is it "having two processors do different, but somehow related, things at the same time"?

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

    Fire the Lwyer Cannon

    Yet more "This is our tech they have to pay up" and "Insert generic we are amazed at being sued, we are the good guys".

    Can we have cake instead?

    1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

      Re: Fire the Lwyer Cannon


      El Reg plz give me an edit button!

  13. Martin

    Not that I normally have ANY truck with patent battles...

    But having used TIVO since the old Thomson box in the late nineties - it really was a MASSIVE step up. The ability to stop/rewind live TV; the ability to set up series links (with intelligence to adjust when the schedule adjusted - even now, V+ screws that up) - the ability to record programs based on keywords (eg Record any program about chess) - hell, even the fact that it downloaded (over a phone line!) the program data - all of those were completely new - at least to the consumer market.

    Even when Sky+ and V+ came along, they were like clunkly old rubbish compared to the Tivo.

    Comparing a Tivo with a VCR & Video+ is like comparing a car with a bicycle.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Not that I normally have ANY truck with patent battles...

      Be that as it may - where's the "technological innovation" that the article talks of? Doesn't TPB et al. provide even better features through their "distributed archives"?

      I was digitising video in the early 1990s - who do I send the cheque to? Surely only a matter of time before retroactive patents are granted. I pity the poor buggers who invented things like the wheel, fire and didn't think about patenting them…

    2. Gordon 11

      Re: Not that I normally have ANY truck with patent battles...

      Comparing a Tivo with a VCR & Video+ is like comparing a car with a bicycle.

      You'd have liked the Topfield 58x0 then. It has a (mostly documented) user-accessible API, so some users re-wrote the user interface into something that end-users wanted - and patched the firmware to fix bugs, add functionality, etc.. (

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A massive step up?

      To play Devil's advocate, wasn't the iPhone a massive step up from what came before? I'd argue it was, but what about it should be patented? There's a hundred little things that all by themselves where most/all don't justify a patent unless you're a true believer in software patents. Unless there's some sort of "the sum of the parts" patent that covers a re-imagining of a product there's no way patents could protect either one without letting in all the dodgy software patents. Anyone supporting Tivo's patents but not Apple's is obviously a Tivo fanboy and/or Apple hater, because they have similar quality.

      Now as a Tivo owner, I'll agree that it was a massive step up from the VCR I had before it, but most of the advantage was derived by using a HDD instead of tape. Random access beats sequential access. Tivo's program guide wasn't any different than the program guide that some cable boxes had at the time, other than being able to hit 'record' on a show. That's kind of obvious for a device that records...

      The idea of a DVR is like visual voicemail, where myself and I'm sure millions of others came up with the idea before there was ever a product that did it. Because we know that random access beats sequential access.

      The only real innovation in Tivo's product was having it record stuff for you based on what you liked. The method by which they do it should be patentable, but not the idea of doing it. As for me, that's the first thing I turn off when I buy a Tivo, as I find it completely useless.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why ?

    "someone must have invented the DVR"

    really!!! you don't think It would seem obvious?. Once you have a digital video stream, then it's just data, and saving data (to disk or elsewhere) didn't really need to be 'invented' as it wasn't exactly new. Then once that data was in a file, on disk, replaying it was hardly a huge leap of imagination. The only other part is scheduling of recording, and I think there may be some prior art on that!!!. Patenting a particular method of combining these pre-existing concepts may have been worth a punt, but I'm not sure there is any original work in the actual idea of a DVR.


      Re: Why ?

      > The only other part is scheduling of recording, and I think there may be some prior art on that!!!.

      select chanid,starttime from programs where title='Doctor Who';

  15. Not_The_Droids

    So where does this leave

    MythTV? I was a heavy MythTV user until earlier this year... Would the layering of the software upon a standard PC hardware platform exempt it from the steamroller, or would its features encumber it and make an open source project a target? I used an Athlon 3200 with a Happauge tuner card.

  16. Epobirs

    Does no one remember RePlay?

    TiVo didn't invent the DVR and wasn't first to market. The RePlayTV, under the Panasonic Showstopper branding, was in stores many months before the first TiVo model.

    My 12 year 4080 model is still plugging away for my mother, though the original remote has worn out. She insists on still using it because she cannot wrap her head around the multi-device remote I got to replace it.

    The old RePlay had a lot of features TiVo didn't offer until many years later, like a real networking port and moving video files between DVRs (or PCs using a Java app called DVarchive), remote scheduling over the web, sending video to other DVRs over the internet, etc.

    I still find its interface better than all of the cutie-pie crap on the TiVo, especially the TiVo default of relentlessly trying to tell me what I should want to watch. (The TiVo thinks if you record Fullmetal Alchemist you must also be interested in shows ratted for small children. Because isn't all animation for small children? Then there is the 'my TiVo thinks I'm gay' gag that found its way into dozens of sitcom scripts a few years back.)

    RePlay came under fire from Hollywood, Inc. a lot because it pretty much let users do whatever they wanted and that didn't sit well with the broadcast industry. So ownership of the RePlay IP changed hands a few times. Who has it now?

  17. Outcast

    Electronic Design

    Anyone rememeber Casablanca NLV ?

    I bet ED have/had some patents prior to Tivo's.

  18. David Kelly 2

    DishNetwork version of WebTV?

    No one remembers the DishNetwork version of WebTV? Possibly the first PVR in the USA. I never understood how TiVO managed to sue Dish and win. Sadly, Dish didn't bother to apply for patents because they thought what they were doing was too obvious.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Massive article bias towards TiVo

      'Cisco is seeking a declaratory judgment of non-infringement on four TiVo-owned patents: U.S. Patent Numbers 6,233,389 (the "Time Warp" patent at issue in TiVo's lawsuits against Dish, AT&T, Verizon, TWC and Motorola); 7,529,465 ("System for Time Shifting Multimedia Content Streams"); 7,493,015 ("Automatic Playback Overshoot Correction System"); and 6,792,195 ("Method And Apparatus Implementing Random Access And Time-Based Functions On A Continuous Stream Of Formatted Digital Data")' link | other link

      If Cisco succeeds, then they'll have totally stolen TiVo's Lunch™. I recall some time ago, the market for TiVo was drying, up which is when they got into the suing business, but lookie here Lycos sued them, anyone here remember Lycos?

  19. Morac

    TiVo Patent

    I see a lot of people are asking about TiVo's patent. Apparently a lot of people don't know how to use Google. Anyway here it is:

    And as someone mentioned above, the patent isn't about just storing video on a drive. It's about a method indexing the audio/video allowing it to be recorded and played back on a very low powered device. The original TiVo had a 40 Mhz CPU.


      Re: TiVo Patent

      > t's about a method indexing the audio/video allowing it to be recorded and played back on a very low powered device.

      Then it should be irrelevant by now. It should be so irrelevant that no one should ever have heard of it because it became obsolete before anyone ever heard of Tivo and before Tivo Corp ever started suing people.

      It's like shaking down Tesla over a patent on stone knives and bear skins.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020