Arris under ITC hammer after mysterious Sony patent filing

Arris is under investigation by the International Trade Commission (ITC) for alleged patent infringements on set top and gateway components for cable and satellite reception, following a filing by Sony Electronics and Sony Corp last month.

The ITC announcing it will begin digging deeper into Sony’s claims makes it two major legal moves in the space of a week for the US set top manufacturer, and the latest investigation seems to relate largely to the assets Arris inherited from Pace, although the juicy details are being kept under lock and key for the time being.

Faultline Online Reporter reached out to Arris for comment, but were told that “unfortunately, Arris is not publicly commenting on this case – we have declined all requests for comment – so we will be unable to provide any additional context or color.”

What has been made public knowledge is that the patents are affiliated with set top products imported into the US such as Comcast’s Xfinity and DirecTV’s Genie cable set tops – patents covering hardware and software.

Let’s take a closer look at Genie first of all, for which Pace supplied DirecTV with a home video gateway and thin set top client for the Genie multi-room DVR, which first launched in October 2013. Pace has manufactured a long line of set tops for DirecTV beyond the HR34 Genie server, C31 Genie Mini, and HR44-700 Genie DVR, but the only stand out exception with this particular case is that the Genie has RVU support.

Therefore, the initial thought process here was that the patents could  somehow be connected to RVU functionality – which allows a TV to receive a UI and picture from Genie without having to connect an additional receiver to the TV. Samsung is the only OEM with TV sets compatible with RVU, an inconvenience which remains the case today.

Other manufacturers such as Sony and Toshiba do not build their TVs to be RVU compatible – which perhaps showed the lack of enthusiasm for RVU among OEMs. The RVU (R-View) software protocol was developed by the RVU Alliance, founded by Broadcom, Cisco, DirecTV and Samsung.

DirecTV then contracted Humax to build a next generation version of the Genie DVR, while the Genie server came from Samsung. It isn’t clear if any Pace components were used in the next gen model, but both supported the RVU software protocol, based on DLNA.

Other products from Pace, such as Comcast’s Xfinity set tops that have also allegedly infringed patents, do not include RVU functionality, so there’s always the possibility we have missed the target here.

Another area of investigation for the ITC could be the Common Driver Interface (CDI) standard, which Pace said it used in its Genie products for decreasing the development time for complex HD set tops to under a year.

The initial complaint by Sony was filed in March, for Section 337 of the Tariff Act, pertaining to unlawful importation into the US and unlawful sale of certain components of cable and satellite set tops and gateways – infringing patents RE45,126; 6,467,093; 8,032,919; 6,556,221; and 6,915,525.

The ITC Law Blog states that “the ’126 patent is directed to communication devices that connect to a counterpart communication device using a push button.”

“The ’221 patent is directed to a system with a target device and a controller device in which the target device provides a complex graphic user interface (GUI) having a button GUI element that defines the appearance of a button element displayed by the controller device.” Which is pretty much what RVU does, so there’s the likely problem.

The ’093 and ’919 patents relate to MPEG structure and finally, “the ’525 patent relates to controlling hardware and software set top functions, such as changing channels, through a browser.”

Arris’ legal gurus will have their work cut out, after last week’s legal action filed against it over its core Intel supplied chip, by a private individual from California. These cases are likely to invoke more legal actions in the coming year and other OEMs may jump on board.