Charter Targets Verizon FiOS in Patent Suit

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Verizon Communications' flagship FiOS high-speed data and video service infringes four patents held by Charter Communications, the cable operator alleges in a federal lawsuit.

Charter Communications Operating and numerous local affiliates sued Verizon on Dec. 31 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, in Norfolk, demanding damages and an injunction to stop further infringement.

FiOS is designed to deliver voice, Internet access, HDTV and video-on-demand over an all-fiber network to homes and small businesses. It's the cutting edge of Verizon's push for fast, lucrative "triple-play" services to compete against cable operators delivering TV, Internet and voice.

FiOS has more than 1.6 million subscribers and is available to more than 8.2 million homes and businesses in 14 states, according to Verizon. The service offers much higher speeds than typical DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) or cable modem service. Verizon said last year it was expanding 50Mbps downstream and 20Mbps upstream capability to the whole FiOS network.

Charter serves about 5.6 million subscribers in 28 states. It offers HDTV, video-on-demand and voice, along with Internet access at speeds up to 16Mbps.

In its complaint, the cable operator claims Verizon has infringed four U.S. patents on network transmission and routing technology and software for ordering on-demand content. Patents 6,684,400 and 6,314,573 cover a "method and apparatus for providing subscription-on-demand services for an interactive information distribution system." It lets consumers subscribe to packages of on-demand programs for a single price and then browse through and pick out programs using a graphical user interface. Patent 6,477,182 is for a method of modulating signals that can cut cost and complexity, and patent 6,826,197 is for "a data packet structure capable of efficiently propagating a payload through a multi-user, digital video distribution system." All the patents were filed for in the late 1990s and issued in the first half of this decade.

Charter is seeking a jury trial and is demanding reasonable royalties, with past interest, as minimum damages, as well as attorneys' fees.

Verizon believes the suit is without merit, according to spokesman David Fish.

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