After settling several patent suits with hardware vendors and multichannel-video distributors it had accused of ripping off its interactive program guide technology, Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. is now targeting companies that allow Web surfers to search for TV listings based on their ZIP code.
Gemstar sued Tribune Media Services for alleged patent infringement on Oct. 12, claiming that Tribune’s Zap2It.com Web site, which contains TV and movie listings, violates technology Gemstar uses on its TVGuide.com site.
The timing of the suit is noteworthy, considering it was filed more than five years after Tribune launched Zap2It.com, which allowed consumers to punch in their ZIP codes to find local TV listings from its inception.
WHERE THEY RANK
According to Alexa.com, Zap2It.com has been the 1,000th most popular site on the Web during the last three months, while TVGuide.com was ranked as the 960th most popular site during the same period.
The Gemstar complaint comes as the company faces more competition from Tribune on multiple fronts, including the passive, scrolling guide business and the interactive program guide sector. Tribune distributes a Zap2It scrolling guide channel, similar to Gemstar’s TV Guide Channel, and the company is also developing a three-dimensional interactive program guide that relies on technology Tribune acquired in 2003 from iSurfTV.
Gemstar argues in its lawsuit that Tribune’s Zap2It.com violates a patent Gemstar obtained in 1997. The patent Gemstar cites is for technology that would allow consumers to program video recorders with personal computers, using ZIP codes to find local listings. The patent doesn’t mention the terms Internet or World Wide Web, which is the medium Tribune uses to distribute TV listings to people surfing the Internet.
In the lawsuit, Gemstar says its executives met with Tribune Media executives on April 29 to discuss terms for a licensing agreement for the Gemstar patent.
Gemstar said it continued to hold talks in subsequent weeks with Tribune, but that Tribune balked at a deal Gemstar proposed on June 16.
“Within 24 hours of receiving the licensing proposal, TMS summarily rejected the proposal, stating it was not interested in taking a license,” Gemstar writes in the lawsuit.
Tribune officials declined to discuss the suit, but they said they believe Zap2It.com doesn’t violate Gemstar’s intellectual property.
“We believe that our Zap2It.com Web site does not infringe on any of Gemstar’s patents,” said Tribune spokesman Steve Tippie.
While Gemstar has demanded that a jury hear its case, most patent suits are settled before going to trial.
Case in point: Gemstar has reached settlements in the last two years with several companies accused of infringing patents for its interactive program guide, including Scientific-Atlanta Inc., EchoStar Communications Corp. and Pioneer Corp.
Gemstar and Tribune officials declined to comment when asked if the companies were holding settlement talks.
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