Over the last year or so, TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) has turned a morass of uncertain lawsuits into a constant string of wins. The big ones get all the attention and for good reason: DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH ) and EchoStar (Nasdaq: SATS ) paid up $500 million in fees and damages to turn their patent-infringing DVR boxes into properly licensed, TiVo-approved features. AT&T (NYSE: T ) is on the hook for at least $215 million in a similar win. These are game-changing wins that gave TiVo big cash infusions and set strong courtroom precedents.
Simmering under that attention-grabbing surface, TiVo's patents are gaining even more power from smaller victories. Today, the company records another tiny win in an unexpected place.
The Australia Federal Court ruled that local TV set manufacturer VIVO International must change its name, it being a blatant attempt to benefit from the soundalike TiVo brand. Though VIVO got off the ground before TiVo started selling anything in the Australian market, TiVo's global reputation preceded it and deserves legal protection.
This victory on faraway shores may not make a difference to TiVo's remaining big cases in America, but it's yet another demonstration of power in the courtroom that can motivate smaller fish to sign license agreements with the company. In the long run, TiVo wants to leave the hardware business to become a purveyor of software and technology research that drives DVR boxes across cable and satellite services worldwide. It's a high-margin business where most of the hard work is already done.
The trick here is to complete this metamorphosis while DVRs are still hot. The ability to pause and rewind live TV and to record oodles of shows without switching tapes are great improvements over the VCR age, but these features may become irrelevant in a fully digital era. I'm a shareholder because I expect TiVo to gain another 40% or more as the licensing strategy plays out, but I'll need to see evidence of a post-DVR strategy if TiVo wants me to hold these shares beyond the next year or two.
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