A recent decision by the United States International Trade Commission constitutes a victory for the country’s intellectual property system. The ITC found set top boxes used by Comcast to be infringing TiVo’s patent rights. TiVo sued Comcast when the cable provider decided it would no longer pay to license TiVo’s patented technology but would instead use it for free. Meanwhile, other cable companies would continue to pay to license this technology from TiVo.
The technology at issue is based on two patents that essentially allow viewers to use their smartphones to control their set top boxes. U.S. Patent No. 8,006,263 for an “Interactive Television Program Guide with Remote Access” provided for a system for selecting television programs over a remote access link. This permits users to access program guide system features, such as parental controls and program reminders, without being physically present in their home. U.S. Patent No. 8,578,413, by the same name, discloses a similar system that allows users to adjust settings of multiple program guides at different locations within the home from a single remote device. Initially, TiVo alleged Section 337 infringement of 6 total patents but the ITC ultimately found only these two patents to have been violated. Accordingly, TiVo received a ruling for an exclusion order forbidding the importation of Comcast’s cable boxes into the United States as long as they contain the infringing technology.
The International Trade Commission is a quasi-judicial body whose duty is partially to investigate claims regarding intellectual property rights violations by imported goods. The Commission is comprised of U.S.-appointed commissioners and judges. Comcast manufactures its set top boxes outside the United States so the ITC has jurisdiction to impose such an exclusion order on the cable giant. Had Comcast manufactured its products in the United States rather than overseas, the ITC would have no jurisdiction over the dispute. However, TiVo would still have other legal remedies available for protection.
The United States has long been a leader in innovation across the globe. This is in part due to its strong patent system, written directly into our Constitution, which bolsters creativity and invention. Inventors want to reap the benefits of their work and protect it when someone steals it. Thus, they desire to be able to enforce their rights and protect their intellectual property. Without sufficient protection, innovation slowly withers away.