Florida company CustomPlay filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple today, claiming the fourth-generation Apple TV’s rewind with closed captioning tvOS feature copies its movie companion software.
Using the Siri Remote, Apple TV users can ask “what did she say?” and tvOS will rewind the TV show or movie by 10-15 seconds and resume playing with closed captioning temporarily enabled.
Skip to roughly the 1:02:13 mark of Apple’s September 2015 event video below to see a live demo of the feature.
CustomPlay owner Max Abecassis essentially argues he invented the idea first, based on U.S. Patent No. 6,408,128 B1, filed in 1998 and granted in 2002. A relevant excerpt from the patent’s description:
A remote control capable of activating a replay function comprises a WHAT? button, key, or other replay function key or means, to enable a viewer by activating the replay function to automatically cause the system to: i) rewind or skip backwards the playing of the video a system default or a viewer specific previously defined amount, e.g. 20 seconds; ii) turn on the subtitle to a system default or a viewer specific previously selected subtitle language, e.g. English; iii) turn off the subtitle at either the point the WHAT? button was pressed or at some viewer specific previously defined point with respect to the time at which the WHAT? button was pressed, e.g. five seconds prior to, or after, the point the WHAT? button was pressed; and iv) increase the audio/dialog volume during the segment replayed.
In its complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, CustomPlay says it has software that uses the patent available for download on its website. The company’s homepage lists apps such as PopcornTrivia and CustomPlay, each available on the App Store for iPhone.
For one app, named One Screen, CustomPlay describes a “What?” feature that does sound similar to the Apple TV’s feature.
The What? function rewinds the movie a user-defined amount of time, e.g. 20 seconds, and continues playback with the subtitles automatically enabled only during the replayed portion.
One Screen, however, is the only app listed as “coming soon” on CustomPlay’s website. The company still intends to make the software available to end users, according to its complaint. It’s unclear if similar functionality is included in its PopcornTrivia and CustomPlay apps, or in its DVD software for PCs.
CustomPlay says it contacted Apple about the potential for an exclusive business relationship in 2014. The company believes Apple is aware of its patent and, without a license, proceeded to implement its patented technology.
Court documents obtained by MacRumors show CustomPlay seemingly mailed letters to Apple CEO Tim Cook and three iTunes executives in July 2014, and Abecassis sent a few follow-up emails to Cook later in the year, but it’s unclear if Apple responded. There is no indication of Apple responding at the very least.
Apple has an unsolicited idea submission policy to prevent potential misunderstandings or disputes when the company’s products or strategies might seem similar to ideas it has received, but it’s unclear if it would apply in this situation, and it does not automatically excuse Apple from patent infringement.
CustomPlay’s website says it is affiliated with Nissim Corporation, which appears to be a non-practicing entity, also owned by Abecassis. Nissim sued Apple last September for allegedly infringing upon seven patents related to DVD specifications. The two companies reached an unknown settlement in December.
Nissim’s website says it has brought lawsuits against major companies such as Apple, Paramount Pictures, Time Warner, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. All of those companies, excluding Apple, are also listed as Nissim’s licensees, alongside Acer, Bose, Dell, HP, Lenovo, LG, Microsoft, Sony, and others.
CustomPlay is seeking damages of an undetermined amount from Apple, plus legal costs, and it has requested a jury trial.
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