Microtune Gets Cable-Modem Tuner Patent

Microtune Inc. said it has won a patent for its cable-modem single-conversion tuner, sending fair warning to the handful of companies it believes could be infringing on the technology.

The patent, No. 6,169,569, covers the fundamental architecture behind Microtune's Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS)-based, single-conversion tuners as well as "any" cable modem that uses that technology, the company said. It owns 12 other patents related to RF (radio-frequency) tuner technology.

Microtune said the architecture is presently housed in more than 5 million cable-modem tuners. Company president Jim Fontaine estimated that the Plano, Texas-based company claims between 60 and 70 percent of the DOCSIS cable-modem tuner market.

Beyond the cable-modem arena, the technology covered by the new patent-used in Microtune's 4700- and 4900-series products-is also aimed at interactive set-tops and wireless Internet appliances.

Microtune president Jim Fontaine said his company will seek licensing agreements with other cable-modem tuner manufacturers prior to taking any legal action against them. Fontaine intimated that Toshiba America Consumer Products, Samsung Electronics America Inc., Thomson Consumer Electronics and Alts are among the cable-modem tuner makers that may be infringing on Microtune's patent.

Microtune has already shown it's not afraid to cross legal swords with larger companies. In January, it filed a lawsuit against chip giant Broadcom Corp., claiming the latter's "BCM3415" microchip infringes on its "tuner-on-a-chip" patent. Microtune is seeking undisclosed monetary damages in the suit.

At the time, Broadcom called the lawsuit "frivolous litigation" designed to slow down the rollout of its own silicon product, designed for future high-speed appliances beyond PCs, such as television sets and personal digital assistants.