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Patent suits target cable and satellite companies

A company that claims to own patent rights in virtually all Internet streaming media services has sued the largest cable and satellite TV companies in the United States.

Acacia Research, a Los Angeles-based patent-holding company, contends that the big television companies, ranging from Comcast to DirecTV, are infringing on patents Acacia holds for governing the transmission of audio and video content over the Internet, cable lines and satellite feeds.

Acacia, CNET reported, has spent much of the last two years litigating against providers of online adult video services, while seeking licenses from a broader range of Internet companies, as well as the cable services.

Acacia's actions have been among the most sweeping of a recent generation of patent claims that have targeted many of the most basic Web and Internet technologies, ranging from vital Web browser features to the process of downloading updates to antivirus programs.

The company has already won licenses from 123 companies and organizations, including Walt Disney and Radio Free Virgin. It has pursued a strategy of moving to progressively larger organizations, starting with the adult video business, and then rippling out to Internet and offline giants.

Its approach, in which it typically has asked for a small percentage of revenue, has triggered waves of concern among smaller companies with tiny profit margins, such as independent Internet radio stations.

The patents, according to Acacia, cover almost all instances of transmitting compressed audio and video, whether online or through a cable or satellite network. The lawsuit covers some aspects of basic cable, as well as on-demand movie services.

Lawsuits were recently filed against Comcast, Charter Communications, DirecTV, Echostar Communications, Boulder Ridge Cable TV, Central Valley Cable TV, Seren Innovations, Cox Communications, and Hospitality Network, a Cox subsidiary that provides in-room hotel movies. Acacia could add more cable companies to the lawsuit in the future.

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