Diva stacking up patents for video on demand

May 28, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded video-on-demand technology infrastructure company Diva two key patents this month.
Diva, which develops video-on-demand servers and software for the cable industry, has formed partnerships in recent months with multiple system operators AT&T Broadband, Charter and Insight.
The Silicon Valley video systems purveyor is focusing its efforts exclusively on cable-based VOD delivery because it believes the direct broadcast satellite and DSL broadband industries’ lack of a mechanism for consumers to send information rapidly from their remote controls to a central data storage facility leaves cable as the only viable VOD platform in the near term.
The latest Diva patents won’t come as much of a shock to industry insiders, given that the company is hardly an intellectual property novice. Since Diva’s inception in 1995, the company has been granted 29 patents, according to Chief Technology Officer Christopher Goode. One patent, issued May 8, aims to prevent video pirating by keeping VOD content encrypted from the time it leaves the studio of origin until it arrives at the set-top box.
Mr. Goode said the patent should allay entertainment studios’ fears that technological partners could steal programs from their film or television libraries. Diva’s system, while protective of studios’ assets, also has the side effect of preventing programs from being formatted for VOD viewing after leaving the studios. As a result, the safety mechanism would force studios or post-production houses to handle VOD formatting themselves before it reaches Diva’s servers for distribution to viewers.
“We’ve got relationships with the studios and the post-production houses who do VOD authoring for our content,” Mr. Goode said, maintaining that bypassing a technological middleman during the formatting process shouldn’t pose a problem for the VOD industry.
Another Diva patent for VOD technology, approved May 15, seeks to increase the company’s video storage capacity by allowing its individual servers to communicate with one another-effectively transforming a set of lone servers into a network. One of Diva’s most well-heeled rivals in Silicon Valley, Sun Microsystems, has built a lucrative business out of linking servers into networks.
Unlike Sun, which has grown into a publicly traded powerhouse with a $70 billion market capitalization since its formation in the early ’80s, Diva-which withdrew a long-planned initial public offering last year-has borrowed heavily in the junk-bond markets.
Sun has shunned holding its technological innovations close to its vest, said Rob Glidden, Sun market development manager for broadband and digital media. “We believe the companies today are offering proprietary solutions, whereas we are a general platform. So we partner with a number of [VOD software] companies such as Kasenna and Vsoft.”
But, Mr. Goode countered that Diva’s patent portfolio hasn’t kept it from establishing alliances with companies that provide complementary services. For instance, Diva has signed deals with several multiple system operators and has been in talks with VOD content aggregator iN Demand.
“I don’t think patents are necessarily there to make your system closed,” he said. “They’re certainly there to give you a competitive advantage.”