EchoStar gained new traction Monday in its ongoing digital video recorder (DVR) patent dispute with TiVO, as the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) issued a preliminary “office action” rejecting the validity of two claims pertaining to TiVO’s patented multimedia time warping system. The PTO’s action centers upon TiVO Patent Claim No. 31, which describes “a process for the simultaneous storage and playback of multimedia data,” and Claim No. 61, which pertains to the device or apparatus on which such data is stored and played. Both claims are at the heart of a June 2 ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, which held that technology workarounds developed by EchoStar to enable EchoStar’s DISH Network affiliate to continue providing DVR services to its customers infringe upon the TiVO patents in question. Holding EchoStar in contempt, the court ordered EchoStar to comply immediately with the tenets of an earlier injunction that ordered the satellite TV provider to disable DVR functionality in all set-top boxes that contain the infringing technology and to pay TiVO an additional $103 million in damages. The case is currently under review by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, where EchoStar was recently granted a stay of the lower court injunction. In its preliminary ruling, the PTO found that the two patent claims “now appear to be rendered obvious” by technologies contained in two prior patents granted to Phillips and iMedia. Emphasizing, “these . . . are the same claims that EchoStar was found to have infringed in the contempt ruling now pending on appeal,” officials of EchoStar and DISH Network described the PTO’s findings as “highly relevant to the issues on appeal.” TiVO voiced confidence, however, “that the PTO’s preliminary finding will not affect EchoStar’s appeal,” as a company spokesman maintained: “it is not unusual for the PTO to provide a preliminary finding of invalidity and to later find that the claims were valid.”