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EchoStar Strikes Back At Gemstar With Antitrust Lawsuit

LITTLETON, COLO. -EchoStar, the satellite TV operator being sued in a North Carolina federal district court for patent infringement by Gemstar-TV Guide International, turned around and sued Gemstar-TV Guide in federal district court in Colorado for what it calls “illegal and monopolistic” licensing practices.

EchoStar charged in the suit that Gemstar, which claims to control patents for onscreen television program-guide technologies, is violating federal and state antitrust laws, as well as laws governing unfair competition. EchoStar is seeking monetary damages and injunctive relief to stop Gemstar’s activities.

Also, in response to the Gemstar-TV Guide suit, EchoStar said it filed an answer and counterclaims in North Carolina federal court, contesting Gemstar’s allegations of patent infringement and attacking the validity and enforceability of the Gemstar patent.

Among the items in the counterclaim, according to EchoStar, is an account involving Gemstar-TV Guide president Peter Boylan and a claim he allegedly made, less than two years ago, that suggested the Gemstar patent at issue in the North Carolina lawsuit was invalid.

EchoStar’s action follows similar litigation brought against Gemstar-TV Guide last month in Los Angeles superior court by Pioneer Digital Technologies, a joint venture of Pioneer Electronics.

The Pioneer suit alleges that Gemstar has created an environment of unfair competition and intentionally interfered with Pioneer’s prospective economic advantage. That suit claims Gemstar TV-Guide and its subsidiaries have combined, conspired and agreed with others to monopolize and restrain trade in the market for licensing electronic programming guide (EPG) technology.

Gemstar sued Pioneer in December 1998 in federal court for violating Gemstar’s EPG patents in certain set-top boxes.

Pioneer’s suit alleges Gemstar acquires companies that compete with it, and in some cases have sued it, including StarSight. The suit also states Gemstar has acquired EPG technology patents and tied them together in technology packages to discourage competition.

Gemstar-TV Guide also recently sued personal video recorder company TiVo for allegedly infringing EPG patents. Thomson Consumer Electronics, which markets a TiVo recorder in Europe, said it would not market TiVo products in the United States until the patent-infringement issues are cleared. Thomson is an equity investor in Gemstar-TV Guide through an earlier investment in StarSight.

Gemstar-TV Guide International said that EchoStar’s legal challenge was “unfounded and frivolous.”