In a ruling that has significant implications for the pay TV industry, a Utah federal court has found that Dish Network has violated two patents belonging to ClearPlay, a company specializing in parental-controls technology, and must pay $469 million in damages.
ClearPlay’s technology allows parents to automatically skip through video material they don’t want their families to see, such as nudity or violence, by filtering content. The company has a history of legal battles, along with another Utah-based company, VidAngel, to alter content it doesn’t own. VidAngel’s business model allowed users to filter out content from movies and TV shows they own or rent, which resulted in lawsuits from major studios including Disney, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. After several court battles, VidAngel was forced to file for bankruptcy in 2017.
ClearPlay’s case against Dish dates back to 2014 when the company’s Hopper DVR allowed Dish subscribers to skip commercials automatically using ClearPlay’s patented technology. ClearPlay filed a lawsuit claiming that Dish’s AutoHop feature, which enabled viewers to skip commercials without the need for manual intervention, infringed upon two of its patents, namely patents ‘970 and ‘779.
In its verdict, the Salt Lake City court dismissed ClearPlay’s assertion that Dish willfully infringed upon its patents. The jury, however, found that Dish did infringe upon ClearPlay’s patents and awarded $469 million in damages.
Dish responded to the verdict in a statement issued following Friday’s ruling, saying that it was disappointed by the jury’s decision and remained confident that it did not infringe upon ClearPlay’s patents. The company also said it would pursue post-verdict relief from the trial court and, if necessary, on appeal.
The verdict is a significant blow to Dish, which has faced numerous legal battles over its Hopper DVR and AutoHop feature. The company’s Hopper DVR has been the subject of lawsuits from major broadcasters, including CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox, which claimed that the device and its AutoHop feature violated copyright laws by enabling subscribers to record and skip commercials. In 2014, a New York federal judge ruled in favor of the broadcasters and issued an injunction against the AutoHop feature. Dish appealed the decision, and the case was eventually settled in 2016, with Dish agreeing to pay $1 billion in damages to the broadcasters.
Dish’s legal troubles didn’t end there. In 2016, the company was sued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for allegedly violating consumer protection laws by falsely advertising its services as having “no hidden fees.” The FTC claimed that Dish charged subscribers unauthorized fees, failed to disclose fees, and made it difficult for subscribers to cancel their services. In 2017, a federal court ordered Dish to pay $280 million in fines to the FTC and the attorneys general of California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Ohio.
The latest ruling against Dish over ClearPlay’s patents could have significant implications for the pay TV industry, as other providers such as Comcast, DirecTV, and AT&T have also introduced commercial-skipping features in recent years. The ruling could open the door for other patent holders to pursue similar lawsuits against pay TV providers, which could result in significant damages and force companies to abandon commercial-skipping features.
It remains to be seen whether Dish will appeal the latest ruling, but the case highlights the ongoing legal battles in the pay TV industry over copyright infringement and consumer protection laws. As technology continues to evolve, it’s likely that legal disputes will continue to arise, and companies will need to navigate complex legal landscapes to protect their intellectual property and comply with regulatory requirements.