To TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) or not to TiVo -- that is the question. Like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), TiVo has become a household word that applies to knockoffs and competitors as much as to the original service itself. And there are knockoffs aplenty.

It seems as though every cable operator in the country has a digital video recorder (DVR) of its own, thanks to growing customer demand. These devices are often not TiVos at all but rather come from Samsung, Cisco's (NASDAQ:CSCO) Scientific-Atlanta, or Motorola (NYSE:MOT), running default software from the hardware maker, or perhaps a menu system that the cable company developed in-house.

You'd think that TiVo would be worried by this vast expanse of lookalikes that generate no revenue for the pioneer in this field. You'd be right, of course. TiVo is waging war on satellite provider EchoStar (NASDAQ:DISH) -- which serves up a TiVo ripoff system to its DVR customers -- on patent-infringement grounds. But here's the good part: TiVo is winning.

The lawsuit has worked its way to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, with TiVo so far having won the case every step of the way. EchoStar is on the defensive; it's appealing every decision and hoping that TiVo runs out of money. But the fight is near the end of the road. There's only the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals, and there are no guarantees that the highest court would take the case at all. One more victory, or two at worst, and TiVo can expect a hefty check from its dear opponent.

And that's where the fun begins. TiVo is sick and tired of the low-margin hardware game anyway, and it would love to become the software company that licenses out fully functional, legal DVR solutions to any broadcast operator or hardware manufacturer that wants to sell a DVR.

The process has already started: Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) already offers real TiVo services to its subscribers, and so does EchoStar rival DirecTV (NYSE:DTV). And on the heels of the latest court victory, Cox Communications signed a license agreement with a plan to upgrade its existing non-TiVo DVRs to the real deal via a simple software upgrade.

TiVo has started its transformation into a fat-cat software licensor; it's milking its extensive patent portfolio for all the cash it's worth. It's not TiVo unless it's a TiVo, but before too long, it will all be the real deal. Count on it.

TiVo is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Grab a free 30-day trial to our flagship investment service to read all about it.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. His own DVR is a knockoff -- until further notice. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is always close at hand.