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USA Vid suit targets cablers’ VOD plans

Nets accused of violating digital-media patent

USA Video is at it again.

The company that just lost a legal battle against Movielink has filed a patent lawsuit over video-on-demand against the major cable companies.

The Connecticut firm alleges that the services of Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Charter Communications violate its digital-media patent.

USA Video seeks compensation from, and an injunction against, any on-demand service or programming offered by these companies.

USA Video holds a patent that allows for so-called store-and-forward video. Company had previously described the patent as covering a “system and method for a user to request, and have delivered over an electronic network, a digitized video program.”

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office granted the patent in 1992.

USA Video was previously engaged in a lengthy battle with studio initiative Movielink. After losing a case in early 2005, it lost an appeal earlier this week seeking an injunction and damages. The ruling is likely the reason the suit against the cable operators was filed now.

USA Video has a VOD service but was never able to build a large-scale business around its patent.

Still, patent suits sometimes can yield rulings favorable to the plaintiff even when only minimal design and business plans exist. Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion was forced to pay more than $600 million earlier this year to a company that did little but hold a patent that a judge ruled formed the foundation for RIM’s devices.

At the very least, a patent lawsuit can have a chilling effect on a company’s new-media plans.

All cable operators are enthusiastically expanding their on-demand services, with many of the leading cable nets offering their programs on-demand.

Comcast in particular has been aggressive about on-demand. Capitalizing on its stake in the MGM library, the company has launched the Moviepass service, which offers many older movies for free to subscribers. A Comcast spokesman declined to comment.

It remains to be seen how much the suit would affect more ambitious storage services being made available by cable operators, such as Cablevision’s plans for a remote-storage DVR. That service is already under legal fire from networks and studios, who say it creates a de facto on-demand service.

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