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TiVo (Nasdaq: TIVO ) is no stranger to the courtroom. A series of settlements in patent infringement lawsuits has netted the digital video recorder pioneer at least $1 billion in damages and license royalties. DISH Networks (Nasdaq: DISH ) was first in line, and the biggest paycheck so far. Then came AT&T (NYSE: T ) with a smaller Rolodex of DVR-toting customers, and hence a smaller settlement. Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) rounds out TiVo's victory roll so far with a 7-year agreement to put TiVo-approved software on every FiOS-branded video recorder.
The next domino is about to fall. The last major action on TiVo's American docket is an indirect attack on holdout Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC ) , by way of suing the companies who make Warner's set-top boxes. And it's a potential whopper.
How big is "big?"
In legal filings this week, TiVo said that it is looking for "billions of dollars" in damages alone (emphasis TiVo's, not mine!). Let's put that claim into context. From the filing:
This is an important case for TiVo. Motorola's massive production of infringing DVRs dwarfs the numbers of accused products at issue in TiVo's previous cases. TiVo's damages claim is likely to run into the billions of dollars and TiVo requests a permanent injunction against the infringing Motorola DVRs. TiVo seeks its day in court as quickly as possible ...
The motion was filed to join the cases against Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO ) and Motorola Mobility, now a division of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) . Like I said, TiVo sees a much larger damage claim this time, and makes similar claims against Cisco as well.
The fact that Google now owns Motorola Mobility is an important factor. Big G does not have a history of courtroom aggression, and TiVo's claims against Motorola are actually counterclaims to an earlier lawsuit going the other way. Google may have forced Motorola to drop a patent suit against Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) earlier this month, the better to align the new division with its parent's intellectual property ideals.
Beyond the direct cash payments from these settlements, the legal campaign helps TiVo transform into a lightweight business model. Based on more than a decade of innovation and tons of spit-shine polishing, TiVo sits on a valuable portfolio of software and patents related to video recording and content management. These are being shopped around to cable and telecom operators around the world.
The courtroom drama adds a big, scary stick to TiVo's user-friendly carrot. None of TiVo's lawsuits have actually gone to trial, because everybody from DISH to Verizon saw fit to settle their differences. All three linchpin actions were settled just days before going to jury trial. The parties in the current action are haggling over details like trial dates right now. I can smell another settlement coming by the end of November.
The final tally might not end up in the multibillion dollar range that TiVo outlines here -- some hyperbole is to be expected in any legal filing dealing with dollar amounts. But I don't see any reason why TiVo's victory lap around legal challengers would stop here. There's just too much precedent piled up against Big G and Cisco.
This is the final puzzle piece to TiVo's overall strategy, and the last chance to derail it all. Another win would remove a huge burden of uncertainty from TiVo's shoulders and share price. On the flip side, the damage to TiVo would be huge if I'm wrong.
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