A fighting chance for EchoStar against TiVo

Today marks the resumption of what has become a remarkable showdown between satellite TV provider EchoStar and its one-time subsidiary Dish Network, and store-and-forward TV pioneer TiVo. Last October, in what appeared to be the final chapter of a long story, the US Supreme Court declined to hear EchoStar's appeal of a judgment declaring it and Dish in violation of TiVo's patents regarding its "Time Warp" functionality. The $105 million settlement fee has already been accounted for by TiVo.

A hearing scheduled for today in US District Court in Texarkana was originally supposed to feature EchoStar's presentation of a software-based "workaround" that would enable its and Dish's set-top boxes to implement a live recording feature similar to Time Warp, but without using TiVo's methodology. But last month, the US Patent and Trademark Office decided it would re-examine the validity of TiVo's patent -- a decision which doesn't necessarily call into question the validity unto itself.

That probably changes the entire focus of today's hearing, from making an effort to comply to the question of whether compliance is even necessary. Analysts are expecting TiVo to counter-argue -- if it must -- that EchoStar's workaround is a further infringement on that patent. That workaround is already being deployed nationwide.

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