Dish sues eight companies over streaming tech patents

Eight separate companies have been on the receiving end of patent lawsuits filed in federal court by pay TV provider Dish Network, StreamTV Insider has learned.

The lawsuits were all filed within the past two months and share a common allegation: Dish believes the services are violating its patents that are connected to adaptive bitrate technology, which improves or decreases the video quality of an online stream based on a user's connection speed and other factors.

In numerous complaints reviewed by STV Insider, Dish said it came into possession of various patents related to adaptive bitrate technology over the course of a decade. Some of the technology was developed by engineers working for Dish, while other patents were obtained through various mergers and acquisitions.

Adaptive bitrate technology is common in the streaming world — on-demand and live video services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, Paramount Plus and Amazon's Twitch all use some type of bitrate-adjusting system.

But Dish believes at least eight companies are using adaptive bitrate technology that directly violates its patents, and it is now asking a court to block the companies from using the technology and award Dish appropriate damages. It wasn't clear how Dish came to the conclusion that the streaming services targeted by its lawsuits were infringing on its patents, instead of merely using other types of streaming technology; the company didn't respond to an email sent to a generic news address seeking comment and additional information.

This week, Britbox became the latest company to find itself on the receiving end of a Dish-filed patent lawsuit. In its complaint, Dish said it tried to work with executives at the BBC, ITV and Britbox with various offers to license the technology. Dish said it filed the lawsuit after three years of radio silence from Britbox and its broadcast owners. A spokesperson for Britbox declined to comment on the case.

Two of the companies targeted by Dish — Fubo and Vidgo — directly compete with the company's streaming cable TV alternative, Sling TV. Dish claims it reached out to both companies with offers to license its technology, only for those discussions to fall through.

In Fubo's case, Dish said it first notified Fubo about its alleged infringement in May 2019. For months, Dish held on-again, off-again discussions with David Yoon, Fubo's senior vice president in charge of design, to see if the company would be willing to obtain a license for its adaptive bitrate technology.

The talks with Fubo progressed to the point that Yoon signed a non-disclosure agreement with Dish, the company said in its complaint. But talks broke down around August 2021, and Dish said it didn't hear from Fubo again for at least two years.

This past summer, Dish again tried to settle things with Fubo over its adaptive bitrate technology. In September, an attorney representing Fubo told Dish the company believed it didn't need to secure a license from them, Dish said in its complaint. The lawsuit was filed a short time later. Gina Sheldon, the chief legal officer at Fubo, did not return multiple email messages seeking comment.

A similar chain of events played out over a much-shorter amount of time at Vidgo. Attorneys for Dish said they reached out to Derek Mattsson, then Vidgo's chief executive officer, with a meeting request to discuss the streamer's use of adaptive bitrate technology. As with Fubo, Dish was interested in securing a licensing agreement from Vidgo, according to email records filed in federal court and reviewed by STV Insider.

According to Dish, Mattsson never responded to those emails. He stepped away as Vidgo's CEO earlier this year, according to a source familiar with the company's operations, though his departure was unrelated to the company's issue with Dish.

A spokesperson for Vidgo said the company is still reviewing Dish's lawsuit, but believes the core allegations in the case are meritless.

Dish has filed similar patent infringement lawsuits against interactive fitness developer iFit; the BBC and ITV streaming joint venture Britbox; lifestyle brand Beachbody; and A Parent Media Company, the owner of kid-friendly streaming service Kidoodle.TV. It has also filed patent-related lawsuits against M.G. Premium and WebGroup Czech Republic, the operator of some of the Internet's largest adult video websites. Some of those lawsuits have not been previously reported.

The case against iFit appears to be the one that sparked Dish's interest in fighting for its patents. In 2021, Dish filed complaints with the International Trade Commission (ITC) alleging iFit, Peloton and Lululemon violated its patents by incorporating adaptive bitrate technology into streaming services and video screens incorporated into Peloton and NordicTrack exercise equipment.

Dish was successful at the ITC, with a trade judge blocking the import of infringing iFit and Peloton equipment until the companies licensed the technology from Dish. (Lululemon settled with Dish out of court.)

STV Insider could not determine if Dish and iFit ever settled on a licensing agreement. But months after its victor at the ITC, Dish filed its patent-infringement lawsuit against iFit, claiming the company's redesigned video screens and streaming services also violated its adaptive bitrate patents.

It isn't clear why Dish has filed more than a half-dozen patent infringement lawsuits in a relatively short amount of time. The cases come as Dish is pursuing several other business initiatives, including the development and rollout of its own 5G wireless network that is starved for cash.

In its core television business, Dish has also struggled to offset declines in its traditional satellite television service with more-robust streaming alternatives under its Sling brand. In August, the company revealed Dish and Sling lost nearly 300,000 pay television customers during Q2 2023, up from the 257,000 pay TV customers that left the company during Q2 2022. Dish generated $3.912 billion in revenue during Q2, a year-over-year decline of 7%.