Time to Get Back On the TiVo Roller Coaster?

Investing in TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO  ) is not for the faint of heart. Another reversal in the long-running patent infringement case TiVo has going against DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH  ) and EchoStar (Nasdaq: SATS  ) cut TiVo's stock at the ankles on Friday.

In early March this year, TiVo won another in a seemingly endless string of legal victories against the Dish twins. A panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals held Dish and EchoStar responsible for $300 million in fees and damages due to the satellite company's stepping on TiVo's patented toes back in 2004. That decision sent TiVo's stock up by more than 60% overnight, and last week's reversal of that panel's actions also brought TiVo back to earth again. The stock now trades just about where it was in early March.

Dish CEO Charles Ergen recently noted that this kind of case review isn't granted often, so it's a bit of a shocker. Then again, it's a very material case for both sides of the battle -- maybe the Appeals Court simply felt that it was only fair to give it the full treatment rather than a cursory, three-judge review. I'm not a lawyer, but that would make sense.

If TiVo wins this case, the company could use that victory as leverage to squeeze contracts and payments out of other unlicensed DVR providers. Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA  ) already pays license fees to TiVo, and it even runs TiVo's software on some of its cable boxes. DIRECTV (Nasdaq: DTV  ) is another TiVo licensee and business partner, but Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC  ) isn't. This legal ammunition has the potential to breathe new life into TiVo's entire business overnight.

Ergen was ready to disable 7.3 million DVR boxes if the Appeals Court didn't come through, at a cost of about $3 billion and the loss of many a disappointed customer. He sounded conciliatory notes in his latest earnings call. "We have a lot of respect for what they've done," he said, "and this has always been about an honest disagreement on how our DVRs work. There's never been anything personal about it. ... There is a logic to us working together."

Whether that translates into a technical workaround, a license deal, or maybe even a buyout to settle the score once and for all, the TiVo roller coaster clearly hasn't parked yet. Is this a buy-in opportunity before the stock shoots skyward again -- or just the calm before another precipitous drop? I think it's the former, though the courts seem to have the final say in the matter. Feel free to discuss the six-year case and its many implications in the comments below.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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