Microsoft Files Trade Complaint Against TiVo

Microsoft has filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission against TiVo, asking for an import ban on the latter's digital video recorders.

Microsoft has filed a trade complaint against TiVo, accusing the latter of infringing on four patents.

Microsoft is asking the U.S. International Trade Commission to stop TiVo from importing its digital video recorders (DVRs). "Microsoft seeks an order excluding TiVo's infringing set-top boxes and associated software and hardware from entry into the United States," reads the Jan. 24 complaint, "and a cease and desist order or orders halting the domestic sale of infringing, imported set-top boxes and associated software and hardware."

The complaint alleges Microsoft's Mediaroom software platform, which allows "TV and video service providers to deliver enhanced entertainment content and applications to their subscribers," and is licensed to companies such as AT&T and its U-verse service, relies on intellectual property violated by TiVo.

At the same time, however, the two companies are apparently negotiating common ground. "We remain open to resolving this situation through an intellectual property licensing agreement, and we look forward to continued negotiations with TiVo," Kevin Kutz, a Microsoft spokesperson, wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg Jan. 24.

Microsoft's battles with the DVR manufacturer extend back to 2009, when the company tried to intervene in a lawsuit filed by TiVo against AT&T. In that instance, Microsoft alleged that seven TiVo patents being used as a club against the carrier were, in fact, infringing on its own intellectual property.

Various tech companies have a history of relying on the International Trade Commission-and its ability to ban imports under section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930-as yet another method for battling rivals. In November 2010, for example, Motorola Mobility requested that the commission use section 337 to investigate and ban Microsoft's Xbox from importation. Given how many tech products are manufactured in other countries, and shipped to the United States, the ability to ban imports is one with potentially massive ramifications for the involved companies.

That came amidst an escalating series of legal battles between Microsoft and Motorola throughout the fall, which entered a new stage Nov. 10, 2010, when Motorola Mobility filed patent-infringement complaints against the software maker with the U.S. District Courts for the Southern District of Florida and the Western District of Wisconsin. That seemed a response to Microsoft's own Nov. 9, 2010, lawsuit alleging that Motorola had violated agreements to license at "reasonable rates" Patents related to H.264 video compression and wireless LAN.

Other tech giants resorting to commission complaints include Nokia, which filed against Apple in December 2009, and Apple, which filed against HTC in March 2010.