ObjectVideo Sues Bosch, Samsung and Sony

Author: John Honovich, Published on Apr 06, 2011

In an unprecedented move bound to have a major impact across the global video surveillance industry, ObjectVideo has filed a lawsuit against Bosch, Samsung and Sony for patent infringement. On April 6, 2010, ObjectVideo filed suit in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia claiming violations of 4 video analytic patents.

Why Did This Happen?

ObjectVideo has been struggling for the last few years. After the video analytic hype bubble burst so too did Object Video's fortunes - layoffs inside the company and widespread dissapointment with ObjectVideo's performance across the industry followed (see Pro updates on OV's poor reputation and 'nobody' wanting OV's analytics).

In the last year, OV seemed to fade away - no major new advances and not even much public communication. Then, at the beginning of 2011, an SEC document disclosed that ObjectVideo received a whopping $27.7 Million USD investment - all the more surprising given OV's lack of real world success. Just last week, we released a Pro analysis on OV's funding and future, citing patent litigtion as a likely center of OV's going forward strategy. Then, on Monday, our web spider picked up a new page on OV's website listing a VP of Litigation. Upon seeing that, we quipped at the time, "Dear analytic manufacturers, your lawsuits are in the mail :)" We were, evidently, more right than we knew.

What Does this Mean?

We believe ObjectVideo is going after 'big fish' - the largest manufacturers in the world with the deepest pockets (by most metrics Bosch, Samsung and Sony are in the Top 10 globally in the surveillance industry). While there are dozens of small video analytic only manufacturers, most are doing less than $10 Million in revenue and are likely poor financial targets.

Notably absent from this lawsuit are Axis, Pelco and Cisco. As we examined in our OV future review, Axis has licensed patents from OV to protect itself from this. Pelco and Cisco both OEM / re-sell OV analytic software.

We believe this will have a chilling effect over the entire video analytic industry (as if the struggling analytic industry needed another black eye). Until this is resolved, all users face real risk from using not only Bosch, Samsung and Sony products but any other analytic that OV might sue.

The End of OV

Whether OV 'wins' this lawsuit or not, we think OV is finished as an ongoing operational company, certainly in their current incarnation. OV's historical approach was to partner with video surveillance companies, OEMing their video analytic software. After this offensive, we believe surveillance manufacturers would be resistant to partner with OV (unless they were essentially forced by court decision). That noted, OV is likely doing this because the OEM model has failed. This looks to us as their last ditch effort to make a return on the massive amount invested / wasted in OV over the last decade.

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We are tracking the OV lawsuit campaign. Here are recent updates:

Download the 36 page Complaint Object Video filed against Bosch, Samsung and Sony and the list of patents OV claims were infringed.

The specific patents cited are:

From the patents, here are a few key sections that describe the key claims OV makes and is charging other companies as violating:

  • From 6696945: "Implements a video tripwire system, in which a virtual tripwire, of arbitrary shape, is placed in digital video using computer-based video processing techniques. The virtual tripwire is then monitored, again using computer-based video processing techniques. As a result of the monitoring, statistics may be compiled, intrusions detected, events recorded, responses triggered, etc. For example, in one embodiment of the invention, the event of a person crossing a virtual tripwire in one direction may trigger the capture of a snapshot of that person, for future identification."
  • From 6696945 on the topics of calibration, both manual and automatic: "System calibration may be performed, generally speaking, by either explicit calibration, in which the system is told (or automatically determines) the necessary calibration parameters of sensing device 1, or by implicit calibration, in which the system is told (or automatically determines) the size of an object of interest at various locations in the field-of-view of sensing device."
  • From 7613324 on applications of detecting changes in posture, "Automatic, real-time detection and alerting in case of a person falling or getting up can be advantageous in a wide variety of situations. Such detection and alerting may enable dispatching help quickly and automatically in places like malls, stores, parking lots, assisted living communities, hospitals, or during duress monitoring in law enforcement. An alert may even be a life saver in the homes of elderly or sick people living alone, who may not be able to get up and ask for help after falling."
  • From 7868912 on the use of video primitives, "Event discriminators are identified with one or more objects (whose descriptions are based on video primitives), along with one or more optional spatial attributes, and/or one or more optional temporal attributes. For example, an operator can define an event discriminator (called a "loitering" event in this example) as a "person" object in the "automatic teller machine" space for "longer than 15 minutes" and "between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m." Event discriminators can be combined with modified Boolean operators to form more complex queries."

The claims made are very broad and could easily apply to most video analytic systems, especially if Courts hold up 'automatic calibration' and the use of video primitives (essentially setting up rules).

OV's legal compliant calls out the following specific violations:

  • Bosch's IVA 4.0 running on a variety of Bosch cameras and encoders, specifically cites Bosch's use of calibration, the setup of virtual tripwires and the ability to detect a change in aspect ratio of a human target
  • Samsung cameras cited as violating OV patents include SNB-5000, SNB-3000, SNV-3080, SNV-5010, etc., specifically cites Samsung's use of calibration, the setup of virtual tripwires
  • Sony DEPA cameras including a long list of Sony network cameras, specifically cites Sony's use of calibration, the setup of virtual tripwires

Monetary Damages?

As for monetary damages, this will be especially interesting. None of the 3 companies being sued have likely generated much direct revenue from video analytics. Samsung and Sony essentially give their analytics away for free while Bosch charge less than $200 MSRP per camera for theirs. Beyond that, our sources indicate that analytic usage on products from all 3 manufacturers remains quite low.

Are Other Analytic Companies at Risk?

We spoke to a number of analytic companies who believe, for one reason or another, that their analytics will not be impacted (though none were daring enough to go on the record for this). Even if they did, since Patent Law is so unclear, it would be difficult to have a high level of confidence.

Overall, we assume the risk for users is fairly low. The worse case scenario would be that providers would have to pay moderate damages and ongoing fees for OV patents applicable to the analytics sold.

We have no idea how far OV can or wants to take this. Even the amount of resources they have is questionable. It could be more than $20 Million but some (a lot?) of the new round could have went to paying off existing investors or accumulated debt. OV has been so wildly wrong for so long on their OEM play that it is hard to even project a rationale plan to their moves.

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