Microsoft granted US patent for "interactive entertainment" Has Redmond locked up rights to movies on demand? Alexander Wolfe - EmbeddedWatch.com Complete article including patent drawings May 31--If your company is thinking about delivering interactive video-on-demand cable-television programming or movies via satellite to consumers, maybe it'd better start thinking about paying royalties to Microsoft first. That's because Microsoft has just been granted exclusive United States patent rights to a "networked interactive entertainment system" which "allows viewers to create their own customized lists of preferred video content programs, such as movies, games, [and] TV shows." Specifically, Microsoft on May 27, 2003 obtained patent number 6,571,390 from the United States Patent and Trademark Office for their invention--that's their government-legitimized claim--entitled "Interactive entertainment network system and method for customizing operation thereof according to viewer preferences." Indeed, judging by the summary description included in the patent filing, it looks like Microsoft may have locked up rights to any system which offers up time-shifted movies or television programs over cable, broadband, or satellite systems. (The industry calls programming which customers can start up from the beginning at any time via their cable box "video on demand.) That may be what Microsoft had in mind from the beginning. The patent's summary goes on to state: "An interactive entertainment network system has a video-on-demand application which allows viewers to create their own customized lists of preferred video content programs, such as movies, games, TV shows, and so forth. Lists of programs are provided in one or more scrollable lists. Once grouped, previews for the set of programs are displayed. The video-on-demand application allows the viewers to browse the previews at their own rate, skipping forward to the next preview or backward to the previous preview. During this automated browsing, the video-on-demand application enables the viewer to add any of the programs of interest to a customized list. The viewer can retrieve the customized list at any time. If the viewer orders a program from the customized list, the program remains available to the viewer for a rental period (which is adjustable). Upon expiration of the rental period, however, the program is no longer readily accessible until ordered again." A casual observer might question whether Microsoft's patent is anything original, especially since most cable systems offer movies on demand along with viewer program guides. However, the patent inspectors employed by the U.S. government apparently felt Microsoft's work was original. Regardless, under U.S. law, once a patent is granted, the assignee (in this case, Microsoft Corp. has legal control of the patent filed by two of their engineers, Matthew W. Dunn and Daniel J. Shoff) holds all rights to the ideas described in the patent filing. THE WHOLE SHEBANG? Reading Microsoft's own document, an astute legal observer might opine that Microsoft is merely attempting to patent a program guide for an on-line video system, rather than the complete end-to-end concept of interactive entertainment. While indeed the patent summary does give that initial impression, a more detailed reading indicates that Microsoft may be using the programming guide as a wedge. That's because, further down in the text, the patent appears to claim the invention of networked interactive entertainment. According to Microsoft's patent document, "The interactive entertainment network system of this invention has a headend [effectively, the tape machine connected to the transmitter at the cable company's facility-editor] connected to multiple user interface units in individual homes via a distribution network, such as cable, RF, and/or satellite network. The headend provides full-length video content programs to user "set-top boxes." The headend also supplies previews, which are known as "trailers" in the film industry, about the programs." The video-on-demand feature, the patent says, enables cable customers "to order one or more video content programs from the headend." Microsoft has not publicized the patent yet, however the U.S. patent office has made news of the patent award public. ------- Now may patent law is a little hazy, I know patents are not inviolable. I'm really surprised that MS was granted a patent this far-reaching on technologies that are well underway. But if this holds, doesn't this mean that anybody involved in: - cable - satellite - video on demand - online game downloading (such as Sony's proposed "all in one" PS3 solution) - pay per view - et al would have to pay royalties to Microsoft? I'd be interested in hearing what any patent attorneys on the board think of this.