When will EchoStar (NASDAQ:SATS) learn?

Charles Ergen's satellite company once again came up short in its patent-infringement battle against TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) last night, costing EchoStar an additional $103 million for its unwillingness to play nice with TiVo's intellectual property.

The damage to EchoStar doesn't end there. The meter is still ticking on accumulated interest for the judgments that have all ended in TiVo's favor, dating back to the original victory three years ago. EchoStar will appeal -- again -- but one gets the feeling that it's only delaying the inevitable, with a tab that mounts with every passing courtroom defeat and interest-bearing day.

TiVo has struggled to grow the organic base of subscribers to its digital video recorder (DVR) platform. However, the company shrewdly staked a claim on the patents that power its time-shifting technology. As a result, cable and satellite television heavyweights like DirecTV (NYSE:DTV), Cox, and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) pay TiVo for the right to offer similar set-top boxes and solutions. Ergen's DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) remains the defiant holdout, and EchoStar continues to pay the price.

Ergen has had a rough year. He was trumped by John Malone's Liberty Capital (NASDAQ:LCAPA) in his play for satellite radio giant Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI) in February. Now he has another legal slap in the face, courtesy of TiVo's open hand and closed patents.

How will this end? DISH Network can't afford to deactivate the DVR boxes of its satellite-television customers. The company has already been shedding subscribers, and the sudden absence of DVRs' addictive, commercial-quashing capabilities probably wouldn't help matters. Unless there's a legal card it hasn't played before a sympathetic judge, EchoStar may as well just follow the example of larger players like Comcast and DirecTV, and strike a licensing deal with TiVo. If it's good enough for the leading cable and satellite television providers, what's DISH's dish?

Hasn't EchoStar realized that TiVo is the Harlem Globetrotters of DVR technology? At the very least, Ergen should know that his own company's looking more and more like the Washington Generals.

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TiVo is a former Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares in TiVo and a TiVo box. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy wishes it, too, could make that reassuring little "plunk!" sound.