Apple Sued over tvOS ‘What Did He Say?’ Feature

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CustomPlay, a Florida-based company who creates mobile apps to enhance its customers’ TV-viewing experience, has filed a lawsuit against Apple alleging that a Siri feature built-into the fourth-generation Apple TV infringes on its 2002-era closed captioning (CC) patent.

The feature in question, which allows 4th-gen Apple TV owners to rewatch a portion of their programming with CC subtitles by merely asking Siri, “What did he say?”, allegedly copies a similar feature in CustomPlay’s movie companion software, according to the company’s complaint, which was filed on Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Specifically, CustomPlay’s owner, Max Abecassis, argues that he invented the idea first, and is the exclusive owner of U.S. Patent No. 6,408,128 B1. Filed way back in 1998 and granted in 2002, the patent covers a functionality that allows users to activate subtitles for onscreen programming by either pressing a button on their remote control or speaking — much akin to tvOS’ “What Did He Say?” functionality.

While the company’s portfolio includes several apps, it’s the application dubbed One Screen in which CustomPlay describes the “What?” feature. Unmistakably, this feature sounds an awful lot like tvOS’ “What did he say?” functionality, as per the feature’s description: “The ‘What?’ function rewinds the movie a user-defined amount of time, e.g. 20 seconds, and continues playback with the subtitles automatically enabled only during the replayed portion.”

Interestingly, while CustomPlay claims that it intends to release the app for end users eventually, the One Screen app is the only one among the company’s portfolio of software titles that’s currently listed as “coming soon” on its website. Nevertheless, the company claims that it contacted Apple back in 2014 in hopes of forging an “exclusive relationship” in which it would license the 6,408 patent. Court documents obtained by MacRumors, however, revealed that Abecassis merely mailed several letters to Apple CEO Tim Cook and several iTunes executives back in July 2014, and there’s no indication that Apple ever responded to CustomPlay or Abecassis at all.

CustomPlay has requested a full-throated jury trial in the case, in which it’s seeking an undetermined amount of monetary damages from Apple, in addition to court costs.

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