Dish Network sues Peloton, other fitness companies over streaming patent

(Image: Dish Network Corporation/Graphic: The Desk)

Satellite television provider Dish Network is suing Peloton and a handful of other fitness companies for allegedly violating a patent that covers a basic video streaming technique.

The patent concerns a feature called “adaptive bitrate streaming,” a technique that automatically adjusts the bitrate of a video based on a streamer’s data connection and other factors.

This feature is helpful for those with inconsistent Internet connection speeds or where network congestion is sometimes a problem: Instead of requiring a person to sit around waiting for a video to buffer (remember those days?), the video starts up at a lower bitrate, which gives users something to watch, even if it’s not the best picture quality.

If a connection improves while a person is watching a video, the bitrate automatically goes up, which presents a clearer picture. Should things go south again, instead of stopping the video, the bitrate decreases and the picture deteriorates a little until the connection improves.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because a lot of popular video services employ some kind of adaptive bitrate technology — Google uses it for their YouTube products, including their flagship YouTube platform and their premium pay TV service YouTube TV. Comcast, Disney, Fox Corporation, AT&T and others also use some type of automatic bitrate adjustment scheme on their video services.

Dish Network’s patent covers one form of this technology in that it consistently seeks out the best bitrate to offer a user, and automatically adjusts the bitrate depending on a set of circumstances. The patent seems to cover video streams that originate from anywhere in the world, as viewed by anyone around the world, according to remarks made by a company spokesperson as offered in a recent court complaint.

Dish Network did not develop the technology. Instead, it purchased a company called Move Networks, which perfected the technique and patented it. When Dish Network acquired the tech company in 2010, it also acquired that patent and others. And it has spared no effort in enforcing that patent.

Two years ago, Dish Network sued Univision for using adaptive bitrate technology in some of its own video services. At the time, Dish Network said it was merely trying to protect its patent in that it wanted companies who used adaptive bitrate technology to license the feature from them.

“Dish [Network] is seeking to enforce its patents related to [Internet]-based adaptive bitrate streaming technology that enables content delivery to adapt to the bandwidth available at any particular time, ensuring the highest possible quality content for the available bandwidth throughout the course of the stream,” a Dish Network spokesperson said in 2019.

That patent battle came at a time when Dish Network and Univision were negotiating carriage for Univision’s Spanish-language TV stations on Dish Network’s satellite service and affiliated streaming product Sling TV.  Less than one month after filing the patent complaint, Dish Network and Univision made amends, reaching an agreement to distribute the channels and putting an end to the patent litigation.

Now, Dish Network is at it again, this time honing in on several popular fitness companies who have supplanted Jane Fonda workout tapes as the de facto choice for exercise buffs who want to break a sweat from home.

On Wednesday, Dish Network filed federal lawsuits in two states against Peloton, LuluLemon and NordicTrack parent company Icon Health & Fitness for offering streaming video services that use adaptive bitrate technology. At the same time, Dish Network filed a notice of violation with the International Trade Commission (ITC) against the three companies, invoking the Tariff Act of 1930 and other statutes that govern trans-national commerce.

In the complaint filed with the ITC, Dish Network says it is seeking a cease-and-desist order from the agency against the companies for allegedly infringing on the company’s streaming patent.

Through its federal court cases, Dish Network is hoping for a cash grab: The company is seeking monetary damages from the exercise services for “lost sales,” even though Dish Network does not offer a standalone fitness streaming service.

Representatives of Peloton, LuluLemon and Icon Health & Fitness could not be reached for comment.

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