September 13, 2004 12:26 PM PDT

Acacia steps up lawsuits against cable TV

Acacia Research, the Los Angeles-based company that claims to have broad patent rights to on-demand streaming-media technology, sued a second round of cable companies Monday for patent infringement.

The company has already filed suit against most of the largest cable TV and satellite companies in the United States, including Comcast, Cox Communications and DirecTV, charging that their video-on-demand programming and a handful of other services violate its patent rights.

Monday's suits targeted 20 small cable companies, mostly in Arizona, Minnesota and Ohio. Acacia also added Mediacom Communications to its previous cable-focused lawsuit in Northern California.

"Litigation is often a necessary part of the licensing business," Acacia General Counsel Rob Berman said. "Although litigation is not our preferred course of action, we are prepared to see these cases through to trial, if necessary."

Acacia's patent drive has been one of the most successful of those launched by a recent generation of companies seeking patent royalties for technologies that have become virtually omnipresent on the Internet.

Acacia says its patents cover virtually all instances of video or audio being compressed and streamed across a network on demand. That includes most nonlive Web video or audio, as well as cable and satellite television, hotel video networks and Webcasts on college and corporate networks, Acacia has said.

Several large companies, including Disney, have already settled with the company, which has signed 175 license agreements.

Comcast has been the largest company to say it is contesting Acacia's claims. A spokeswoman reached Monday said Comcast is still actively challenging Acacia's claims but that Comcast could not comment further on pending litigation.

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Missed patent opportunities
Given the Acacia patent on picking computer files from a database, it's a good thing no one thought of patenting the process of picking specific books off a bookshelf, picking specific soup cans off a grocer's shelf, picking the best beans from a stalk, picking specific crayons out of a box, picking computer files from a 200-baud dial-up accessed pre-Internet bulletin board database, . . . come to think of it, maybe there is ample pre-existing art that was so obvious that the Patent Office engineers simply overlooked it.
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