Echostar gets double kick in the teeth
Written by Chris Forrester
Sunday, 07 March 2010 11:18

TiVo has won the latest round of its long-running ‘Time Warp’ patent action against Echostar/Dish. More than $300m is eventually likely to flow into TiVo’s bank account. But TiVo is just one problem facing Echostar.

In action after action TiVo has won every round. Through the lower courts up to the most senior, judges have upheld its ‘Time Warp’ patents. On March 4 TiVo won yet another round, when the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit denied Dish’s request to overturn a ruling that had found the pay-TV broadcaster in contempt. EchoStar/Dish in a joint statement said – much as expected – that they would mount a further appeal, adding that its DVR customers are not unduly affected.

That’s not the way many observers see the situation. One, Craig Moffett, the highly-regarded senior analyst at Sanford Berstein, suggests the implications on this latest defeat “are enormous” and “go far, far beyond the retrospective licensing fees and damages that will now be payable to TiVo. What is at stake is nothing less than their ability to continue to offer DVRs. And without DVRs... well, you can fill in the blank here, but it wouldn't be pretty."

Not being pretty is one statement. Disabling an estimated 8 million Time Warp-enabled Dish set-top boxes will be bloody, especially for Dish subscribers. Most observers expect DirecTV to benefit from the confusion.

But this isn’t the only problem for Echostar. On Feb 26 it announced it had reached an agreement to buy Mexico’s Satmex satellite operation (with MVS Comunicaciones). Echostar is already present in Mexico with its Dish Mexico venture. It now seems that a sizable slice of Satmex shareholders want nothing to do with a deal from Echostar. In a press release, Satmex said an informal group of investors representing about 55% of holders of its Second Priority Senior Secured Notes have refused to back the transaction.