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Will Google TV owe Crestron Royalties for Universal Search?

Invention includes searching, prioritizing and playing video, audio and other content stored locally and in the cloud. Look out Google TV, Dish, TiVo and others?


Search results, in this case for “Harry Potter,” are prioritized by quality of service and price. Click here to enlarge

The trouble with all this great content – movies, music, TV shows and more – is that you never know where it resides and how to find it and play it quickly. Do you have Shrek stored on a local NAS, for example? Or can you stream it from Netflix or buy it from iTunes?

Now there’s a patent application for that (#20110225156 by John Pavlik). Crestron Electronics, a leader in home automation and media distribution, has filed a patent for “Searching Two or More Media Sources for Media.” That’s a fancy way of saying “universal search.” (Clarification: The patent application was filed on March 12, 2010, and only published 18 months later, on Sept. 15, 2011, as is customary.)

Crestron worked on this technology -- they call it WorldSearch -- for a few years before finally shipping a product that implements it: The ADMS Intermedia Digital Media System (ADMS).

Debuting for $9,000 and now retailing for less than $5,000, the ADMS was dubbed by CE Pro as “The Ultimate Content Machine.”

The media server really was the first to do a good job of implementing universal search. Enter a title or artist or other parameter, and the ADMS not only finds it on your local network and in the cloud, but also prioritizes the content.

The results are ordered first by premium content you already own (on the connected Blu-ray changer or home network, for example), then by premium content available through an online provider such as Netflix or Amazon, and then the free stuff, say from YouTube or Hulu. Users can sort only for full-length movies/episodes if desired.

In its patent application, Crestron acknowledges that searching for content on a local network or in the cloud is not new. But aggregating content from both local and online sources is a Crestron invention, the company claims:

[0004] Searching online for various media such as video, audio, and still images is known. Further, searching for such media on a user's local hard drive is also known. For example, programs such as Microsoft's Media Center.RTM., Google.RTM., Yahoo.RTM., Youtube.RTM., OSX.RTM., iTunes.RTM., Windows.RTM., and TIVO.RTM., all include integrated search mechanisms to locate specific data.

Learn more about cloud-based content and home control at the virtual trade event CEProLive! October 27, 2011.
[0005] However, each of these programs compartmentalizes the search process to specific kinds of data. For example, locates all media stored or available within the iTunes.RTM. system, which is a small subset of all the video, images, and audio available online. iTunes.RTM. also only searches for data stored in its own format, and does not search a users locally or remotely stored available data. Youtube.RTM. only searches for videos on Youtube.RTM.. Windows.RTM. only searches for data on the user's internal and external hard drives. Yahoo.RTM. only searches the internet and not the user's hard drive or local media storage devices. Google.RTM., while providing a mechanism to search both the internet and the user's hard drive, cannot search both the internet and the user's hard drive simultaneously and provide a single set of search results. Further, Google only allows searches dedicated to video, audio, or images, and does not provide a mechanism for searching for all media types at the same time.

[0006] Thus, there does not exist a system that searches all known media sources, both local and remote, and presents to a user a consolidated list of search results that is grouped according to media content and filtered and sorted according to the user's preferences.

The Crestron patent application also claims:
  • Sorting by cost and quality of service (high resolution versus standard resolution)
  • Display device to preview thumbnails of associated media items
  • Links to content for instant play, purchase, or streaming
  • A central processor including an input module, the search module, the consolidating module, the grouping module, the filtering module, the sorting module, and the presenting module are implemented on the processor.

Universal Search: Others Have Tried

As Crestron rightly notes, others have tried to implement universal search capabilities for content, but they just can’t manage to include both local and cloud media, and prioritize them based on cost and quality of service.

Or else they can do it … but Crestron may have beat them to it.

The most notable example, perhaps, is Dish Network, which demonstrated in 2010 one of the best implementations of universal search; however, the Google TV platform on which it relies has been plagued with challenges.

Google TV comes close, if bundled with apps that incorporate local content

The Dish solution – incorporating Google TV and Slingbox – searches both local and cloud content but goes one better. It also integrates with Dish’s own satellite service, so scheduled and recorded shows appear in a universal search. Crestron hasn’t been able to swing that yet.

As we wrote back in September 2010:

There are countless solutions today that get us pretty close to anywhere, anytime content. But currently none offers the complete suite of storage, search and access functions that Dish gives you.

For example, Crestron’s ADMS does a nice job of aggregating content from a connected Blu-ray changer, the home network, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and other online services. But it does not incorporate TV content into the search.

TiVo includes TV shows in the mix of content, but does not offer a universal search function for aggregating titles stored on the home network and in the cloud.

Other solutions, such as Windows Media Center with CableCard, provide no aggregated search functionality. To find a movie, users must search individually through Netflix, YouTube, the TV guide, the home network, etc.

Virtually all content providers and major CE vendors have demonstrated some kind of universal search functionality, and the prevalence of DLNA and RVU (employed in the forthcoming HR34 Home Media Server from DirecTV) will make such features commonplace in the future.

Who will be affected by the Crestron patent if it is approved? Giants like RIM (BlackBerry Cyclone) seem to be planning DLNA-enabled media boxes that promise to deliver some kind of universal search.

And then there are the smaller specialty-oriented companies that already deliver such capabilities, for example, Autonomic (Mirage Media Servers). Newer companies like Navvo (Voco V-Zone), which provides an excellent voice-enabled search engine, may also be affected.

More patent application info, images, page 2

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Article Topics

News · Product News · Video · Digital Media · Media Servers · Google Tv · Patent · Universal Search · Crestron · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson. [More by Julie Jacobson]

18 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Mr. Bear  on  09/27  at  08:39 AM

BoxeeBox would like to have a word with you.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  09/27  at  08:48 AM

As far as I know, Crestron beat Boxee and the big CE brands to universal search/playback for both local and cloud content. What isn’t exactly clear is if they beat some of the other niche players in the custom market.

Furthermore, with Boxee and others (before Google TV), you couldn’t do a universal search for a single show. You had to go to each “channel” and search ... Netflix, Amazon, Youtube, etc.

Posted by Jay Martin  on  09/27  at  09:34 AM

Since they filed before the new patent laws are in effect I suspect they’re going to have a really hard time defending this patent (if it’s even granted) given that there is a non-trivial amount of prior art out there.

Software patents should be abolished - they stifle competition and only add cost. The only beneficiaries are the patent trolls and lawyers (who are often one and the same).

Posted by Matt  on  09/27  at  10:04 AM

Dear Sir,

Where then is my iPad app.  I must know if a movie is available in either the HBO, Cinemax, Crackle or Netflix apps prior to deciding to rent it.

Thank you,


Posted by This guy  on  09/27  at  10:16 AM

Ah yes, another obvious patent. Does anyone file patents for real inventions anymore?

Posted by NoOne  on  09/27  at  10:56 AM

Obviously fails obviousness.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  09/27  at  11:07 AM

Matt, we do need desperately a universal search function for iPad, given the ever-changing landscape of content distribution.

Posted by Richard Gunther  on  09/27  at  12:32 PM

How can this be patented? It looks like they’re trying to patent WHAT they’re doing as opposed to HOW they’re doing it.

Posted by Alan D.  on  09/27  at  12:55 PM

Whether or not this is the first “successful” implementation of universal media content search, it’s still search. One shouldn’t be able to patent search, or any kind of mega search engine functionality. The only reason other people are not offering it or are offering it in a limited way is because they are encouraging use of the services they are offering (Apple, Tivo, etc.). The idea itself is not new or not original. Not even clever. Sure, if they could pull it off, they’d be selling more of Crestron’s products and possibly making extra through royalties. I think it’s ridiculous and i should never be approved.

Posted by Joe  on  09/27  at  01:51 PM

This patent is a shot in the dark by Crestron.  Tivo did this nearly a decade ago.  Several Windows apps did as well.  Does Crestron think they have a reasonable right to succeed here, or are their patent lawyers just bored?  ...or are they looking for publicity to substantiate their products and gain attention?

Posted by Steve Faber  on  09/27  at  02:46 PM

“Software patents should be abolished - they stifle competition and only add cost. The only beneficiaries are the patent trolls and lawyers (who are often one and the same). “

Stifle innovation? No, you’re dead wrong.
If IP such as software can’t be patented, companies are not likely to invest millions of development dollars into it.

It’s a business, not some altruistic pursuit, no matter how much you’d wish that hundreds of software engineers would get together on their own time to develop some really cool apps on the chance it may generate revenue down the road, or even more unlikely, because they just thought the world would be a better place with it.

Posted by Jesse R. Castro  on  09/27  at  03:02 PM

Wow, such excellent journalistic integrity.  Even after numerous users claimed that Boxee did this before, your response was “as far as I know, Crestron beat Boxee”.  Do twenty seconds of Googling to find that Boxee was released well before the ADMS was or indeed before the patent was filed. 

Then have a little respect for the profession you are writing about and understand the product.  Part of the reason that Boxee was so popular and innovative was that it search local sources as well as multiple sources online for content through a single portal.  This patent will be shredded like wet tissue paper, and you should be embarrassed that you both didn’t know this in the first place and also that you didn’t do due diligence once people informed you that you were incorrect.

Posted by Jay Martin  on  09/27  at  03:17 PM

@ Steve Faber

Sorry, you’re wrong. Look at the # of people getting sued by patent trolls like Lodsys which have BS patents and no actual product. They’re actually stifling Android and iOS app developers who want to add in-app purchases. These vendors are either crippling their software by removing/not including in-app purchases or they are tossing the app ideas altogether.

In effect, Lodsys is attempting to monopolize the market for in-app purchases. When the final battles are won, Lodsys hopefully will be driven out of business. But that’s going to take years, millions of dollars, and lost opportunity cost for hundreds (if not more) of potential small ISVs who simply can’t afford to fight Lodsys or pay their royalty fees. This can’t be called anything but stifling innovation.

Companies will invest in developing stuff they can sell. IP licensing is utterly beside the point for companies that are providing actual software/hardware/services and, in fact, most patent to protect themselves from other patent suits. All would be solved by abolishing software patents.

And, I’m not some open-source advocate - I work for and have worked for ISVs for all of my professional career - so I completely understand that it’s a business and you must sell your product. But sell a freaking PRODUCT, not IP for some bogus obvious idea.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  09/27  at  03:19 PM

I stand corrected, Jesse. Even I reported in 2009 on Boxee’s then-forthcoming universal search function.

I’m not saying Crestron’s patent application will fly, but they have indeed added unique features, notably, the ability to prioritize listings based on QoS and price.

Posted by weddellkw  on  09/27  at  03:35 PM

Software patents are the equivalent of trying to patent literature or a math equation.  Obviously someone shouldn’t be allowed to copy/paste your code/solution verbatim, but granting patents on concepts like this or the Lodsys case is absurd.

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