News

Song Salvo Suit

3/07/2008 7:00 PM Eastern

Music Choice is hauling Viacom and MTV Networks into court, alleging patent infringement by a competing MTV service — which is carried by the two biggest telco TV providers in the United States.

The music-programming provider, whose owners include Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable, claimed in a federal complaint that MTV’s Urge Radio infringes two patents issued to Music Choice last year.

Music Choice filed the lawsuit March 4 against Viacom and MTVN in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. Music Choice seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction preventing Viacom and MTVN from using the patents in question.

“Music Choice has been seriously damaged and irreparably injured by defendants’ infringement … and will suffer additional irreparable damage and impairment of the value of its patent rights unless defendants are enjoined by this court from continuing to infringe” the patents, Music Choice’s lawsuit said.

MTVN spokeswoman Jeannie Kedas declined comment.

Music Choice public relations director Karen Doler would not say whether the company attempted to license the patents to Viacom and MTVN prior to filing suit.

Verizon Communications’ FiOS TV and AT&T’s U-verse TV are among the customers for Urge Radio, which includes an array of 48 themed music channels.

Music Choice, founded in 1987, is now jointly owned by Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable, Microsoft, Motorola, Sony Corp. of America and EMI Music.

Video Jukebox
Music Choice alleges Viacom and MTVN infringe two of its patents:
Patent No. Title Description Date Issued
SOURCE: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
7,275,256 “System and Method for Providing an Interactive, Visual Complement to an Audio Program” System and method for providing an interactive, visual complement to one or more audio programs, including generating an image based on a sound recording. Sept. 25, 2007
7,158,169 “Method and System for Displaying Content While Reducing Burn-In of a Display” System and method for reducing “burn-in” of a display by rotating frames comprising text, graphics and video in different positions on the screen. Jan. 2, 2007

TUNED FOR CABLE

The Horsham, Pa.-based company offers more than 50 channels of commercial-free music to cable operators and other video distributors, with genres that include urban, rock, country, jazz and blues, and pop hits from the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The service is carried by major cable operators, including Comcast, Cox, Time Warner and Cablevision Systems, as well as Verizon.

Music Choice claims more than 17 million people each month watch its programming. In July 2007, the company said its free on-demand music service passed 1 billion views.

Music Choice accuses MTV’s Urge Radio of infringing on U.S. Patent No. 7,275,256 (“System and Method for Providing an Interactive, Visual Complement to an Audio Program”), issued on Sept. 25, 2007; and 7,158,169 (“Method and System for Displaying Content While Reducing Burn-In of a Display”), issued Jan. 2, 2007.

Music Choice applied for the ’256 patent in February 2002, and for the ’169 patent in March 2003. The company also owns three other patents related to personalized audio — patent numbers 7,028,082, 7,133,924 and 7,076,561 — which are not part of the Viacom/MTVN lawsuit.

In its complaint, Music Choice noted that “it is not known” whether Viacom and MTVN are “deliberately and willfully infringing” the two patents.

Music Choice said the Urge Radio service was available to residents in the Delaware judicial district, apparently referring to Verizon’s FiOS TV service in the state.

URGE.COM MERGED

Last August, MTVN discontinued its Urge.com online-music subscription site, created in partnership with Microsoft, and merged it with RealNetworks’ Rhapsody service. The MTVN-RealNetworks joint venture, Rhapsody America, sells song downloads to PCs and portable music devices.

The Urge Radio music channels that MTVN offers to video operators were not part of the deal with Rhapsody America, spokeswoman Mariana Agathoklis said at the time, although the company had expected to change the Urge Radio branding at some point.

The Music Choice lawsuit is docket number 1:08-cv-00130 in the Delaware federal district court. As of last Thursday, the case had not been assigned to a judge.

September