Virgin Media wins Gemstar EPG ruling

virgin_epgVirgin Media has succeeded in the patent dispute brought against it by Gemstar TV Guide. The London High Court rulings call into question the ability for intellectual property rights holder Rovi to enforce its patents both in the UK and with operators around the world.

Gemstar, now part of Rovi, had claimed the cablenet’s EPG had breached three patents – EP 0969662, EP 1377049 and EP 1613066 – which were involved in the display and transfer of programme information and metadata. BSkyB, Foxtel, Portugal Telecom, Sky Italia and UPC Broadband have all signed up to Rovi’s patent programme.

The decisions were welcomed by Virgin Media’s general counsel Bryan Hall: “We took Gemstar’s claim to court, confident that the claim was unfounded. The decision is resounding confirmation that our position was correct and that Gemstar’s patents are invalid. Gemstar should not have brought this case.”

In its defence, Virgin had said that it was not in breach of the patents, which it argued should in any case be excluded because their functionality was akin to that of a computer programme.

Making his ruling, Justice Mann said the display of programmes in a grid format, as was the case in Patent 662, should be excluded because the display did not constitute a “technical effect”. As the pop-up window containing the programme information did not overlay the grid, this would not have infringed the patent.

Patent 049, which involves the marking of selected channels as favourites, was excluded because Justice Mann ruled it to be plainly a computer programme. Representing the claimants, Colin Birss QC, argued the process improved the technical screen real estate, but Justice Mann said this did not make it a better computer programme and the patent was revoked. “The patent describes a computer taking some information, getting some input from the user, and then giving the user the information he wants. No more than that.” Elements of the judgment rested on whether the programme itself was highlighted or that of the channel number.

The third ruling, Transfer Patent 066, relates to the recording of individual programmes on a device. The patent refers not to the recording itself but to a transfer of a recording to a secondary device such as a VCR or recordable DVD. It has emerged that a clerical error caused incorrect detail to be listed in the patent. Consequently, Gemstar applied to a variation to which Virgin largely did not put forward any objection.