Victory on the menu: Virgin keeps its electronic programme guide

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The Independent Online

Few television viewers think twice about the on-screen programme guide they use to change channels, but it has been the subject of a fierce court battle which could have repercussions around Europe.

A High Court judge ruled in favour of Virgin Media less than two weeks ago following a patent- infringement case brought by the electronic programme guide (EPG) group, Gemstar, a division of Rovi Corporation in the US.

Gemstar brought the action in January 2008 over the interactive on-screen menu Virgin used on its TV service, saying it had infringed three patents. They included the presentation of the guide in a grid, with channels on one axis and times on another. It had also patented the "favourites" function on the guide.

The patents were, however, found to be invalid in English law because they lacked novelty, and the presentation of information cannot be patented. The UK media group had been using its electronic guide since the 1990s. EPGs have become increasingly important to broadcasters and viewers in the digital era as the number of channels has soared.

William Cook, the patent litigator representing Virgin Media, said it was "a significant result", adding it would "no doubt, have a big impact around the industry".

The broadcaster had always maintained the claim was "flagrant opportunism". But Samir Armaly, the senior vice-president of worldwide patent licensing for Rovi, said: "We strongly disagree with the court's ruling on the validity issues, and intend to appeal the decision. We also intend to continue to pursue Virgin for their infringement of our intellectual property, to join the numerous companies who have already taken licenses to our patents."

The judge, Mr Justice Mann, will set the costs for the case later this month, at which stage a decision will be made on the right to appeal.