Vizio turns tables in ongoing HDTV litigation

While we wait for the digital-TV switchover, the manufacturers of high-definition television sets will joust for our entertainment. On Friday, a day after the International Trade Commission upheld a lower judicial body's invalidation of a crucial HD-related patent, Vizio filed suit against the company that made the claim.

Funai Electric has, over the last year, filed various lawsuits against other HDTV manufacturers, asserting infringement of two HD-related patents, 5,329,369 ("Asymmetric picture compression") and 6,115,074 ("System for forming and processing program map information suitable for terrestrial, cable or satellite broadcast").

On Thursday, the ITC upheld an earlier ruling by the Administrative Law Judge that the compression patent was invalid. In a separate ruling, the US Patent and Trade Office has rejected all claims related to that patent, and it is thought that the USPTO may eventually invalidate the patent altogether.

That takes care of 24 of the 27 infringement counts made against Vizio by Funai. Meanwhile, there's the mapping patent (or '074 as the hip patent-lawyering kids say). The ITC has ruled that Vizio's infringing on two of the claims in that patent, and it's looking at the third... but the USPTO's already issued a preliminary ruling that '074, like the other patent, may be invalid.

And where does that leave us? In United States District Court, Central District of California, where on Friday Vizio filed an antitrust and unfair competition suit against the Japanese firm.

In the filing, Vizio, which is based in Irvine, Calif., claims that Funai, "acting alone and in concert with others, unlawfully restrained trade and monopolized the market for the licensing of technology used to interpret and retrieve information from a digital television broadcast signal, as well as the market for digital television sets and receivers."

That claim's related to '074, to which Vizio says Funai unlawfully acquired the rights. Since digital-TV standards are subject to international standards for digital-TV manufacturers, Funai's infringement claims amount to, according to Vizio, violations of the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act, and various California laws and regulations.

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