OpenTV, Liberate Legal Spat Hits New Gear

The legal spat between interactive television software rivals OpenTV and Liberate Technologies took a new twist Friday with a countersuit from Liberate asserting four patents of its own.

The San Carlos, Calif.-based Liberate , which was hit with a patent infringement last month, fired back with a countersuit accusing OpenTV of infringing on several of early and seminal patents on key interactive television technologies.

The countersuit, filed in the Northern District of California, asks for unspecified monetary damages and injunctive relief.

“While we have previously not asserted our patent portfolio against other companies, we view this countersuit as a measured and necessary response to OpenTV’s resort to litigation,” said Liberate’s VP Kent Walker.

The suit, which includes a denial of OpenTV’s earlier allegations, is claiming four patents: U.S. Patent #5,014,125 which relates to addressable multimedia presentations; #5,191,410 which deals with interactive TV transactions; #5,195,092 relating to data multiplexing and streaming; and #5,991,799 which deals with presentation management systems.

In a response to Friday’s countersuit, OpenTV general counsel Jesse Berg said the company had “no reason to believe that OpenTV infringes the patents cited.”

“(We have) numerous innovations in the area of interactive television technology that have been granted protection in the form of 39 U.S. patents and a total of 92 patents issued worldwide. We remain confident in the strength of our original patent infringement lawsuit filed against Liberate,” Berg added.

For OpenTV and Liberate, the legal dispute points to the core of each other’s business model and industry watchers believe the resolution of the suit could have important implications for the burgeoning interactive TV sector.

Both companies develop and market technology used by cable and satellite companies and broadcasters to embed Web-like codes in their signals. Ultimately, the plan is to deliver advanced forms of television-based advertising and e-commerce though the technology.

Patent protection lawsuits are a dime a dozen among technology start-ups, especially in the Internet sector. The latest battle between OpenTV and Liberate came on the heels of another high-profile battle between ad network 24/7 Real Media and rival ValueClick, over online advertising software.

Other recent patent dispute battles in the Internet sector include Amazon.com’s One-Click patent suit against competitor BarnesandNoble.com. , which was just settled.

Former free-ISP rivals Juno Online Services and NetZero also had a well-publi cized battle over patent claims. The two companies have since merged.

* Internet Advertising Report senior editor Christopher Saunders also contributed to this report.

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