Hoping to gain some leverage in negotiations with Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., three major MSOs in 2000 formed a consortium called TVGateway to develop an interactive program guide that would withstand scrutiny from Gemstar’s team of patent attorneys.
Backed by Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Cox Communications Inc., TVGateway deployed its IPG on a few systems owned by Comcast and independent operators before halting development on the guide in fall 2003.
A year later, all of TVGateway’s MSO backers cut long-term license deals with Gemstar, and Comcast formed a joint venture with GuideWorks to oversee its IPG development going forward.
But word surfaced earlier this month that TVGateway still exists, now under the moniker Sedna Patent Services.
McCALL IS CEO
Bill McCall, who was CEO of TVGateway and remains chief of Sedna, says he and the company’s team of about a dozen engineers and attorneys are now focused on managing a patent portfolio for Comcast, Cox and Charter.
Sedna has an office at 1500 Market St. in Philadelphia — the same building that houses Comcast’s headquarters. But McCall said Sedna isn’t part of Comcast.
“We try to assist the industry in manners related to intellectual property. We buy patents, we write patents, and we try to help the member MSOs do a better job with their patents,” McCall said.
McCall said TVGateway changed its name to Sedna last November, but noted that the company hasn’t publicized its existence.
“There’s really no reason for us to publicize Sedna,” McCall said. “The fact of the matter is that we’re doing the work now to understand our opportunity, and when we have some reason to go public, I suppose we will.”
Video-on-demand technology start-up Vertascent LLC revealed the existence of Sedna on June 10, when it announced that it had hired former Sedna executive Bruce Bradley as its executive vice president of product and market management.
Three days earlier, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office issued Sedna a patent for an interactive program guide that would allow subscribers to customize which channels appear on the IPG interface.
The patent application was originally filed by now defunct VOD vendor Diva Systems Corp., and the goal of the patent was to design an IPG that wouldn’t violate Gemstar’s patents, sources said.
McCall said Sedna isn’t focused on developing IPGs, noting that the patent holding company is building a patent portfolio that would help MSOs with any part of their business in the future.
“We have a number of patents and patent applications,” McCall said.
NO GEMSTAR THREAT
Sources said the existence of Sedna shouldn’t be viewed as a competitive threat to Gemstar, which has a broad patent portfolio that it has licensed not only to MSOs, but to other technology companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Scientific-Atlanta Inc.
Indeed, the agreement Comcast signed with Gemstar, when GuideWorks was formed, would allow Gemstar to cross-license Comcast’s patents, a source said.
Several of the inventors listed on the Sedna IPG patent that was issued June 7 are former Diva employees who later went to work for Microsoft.
Three of them — John Comito, Donald Gordon and Edward Ludvig — remain at Microsoft, developing the TV Foundation IPG and ITV platform.