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San Francisco-TiVo Inc. has market presence that companies 10 times its size can only dream of. The little black box that it sells gives viewers control over when they watch their favorite television shows, making it the iPod of the digital video recording industry. Like Google, TiVo is now a verb. But the company, founded nine years ago and based in Alviso, Calif., has only 400 employees. And just five lawyers, led by General Counsel Matthew Zinn. And they probably don’t have a lot of time to watch TV. The company’s invention has rocked the broadcasting and the advertising industries, spawned patent litigation, and even drawn complaints from privacy advocates. Since becoming GC in 2000, Zinn has gone head-to-head with the Motion Picture Association, Major League Baseball and the National Football League, and negotiated agreements with cable and satellite TV providers, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. Low-key guy Yet Zinn remains low-key, working out of an 8- by 12-foot cubicle filled with TV tchotchkes, a reflection of the company’s relaxed and collegial culture. “A lot of people think TiVo is a massive media company,” Zinn said. “Everything is smaller about TiVo than one imagines.” And that’s just the way he likes it. Balancing the demands of customers against attacks from broadcasters, advertisers, regulators and other critics, Zinn wields little of the dollar or political power of his opponents. Instead, he relies on cooperation and compromise to steer the company through a thicket of legal obstacles that threaten to bring it down. As the 41-year-old puts it, his greatest accomplishment is that TiVo hasn’t yet “been sued out of existence.” Sitting in his cubicle on a recent afternoon, Zinn joked about the “love letters” that collect on his desk. These have little to do with love and lots to do with money, he explains, with each saying in essence, “We would love for you to license this patent.” But intellectual property issues are no laughing matter at TiVo. Patent litigation can easily swallow two-thirds of the company’s annual legal budget, and it’s impossible to predict which of the love letters will turn into a lawsuit. The company receives such a letter every couple of months, largely from what Zinn terms patent trolls, companies that don’t make or sell their own products but instead purchase patents that they then seek to enforce. Zinn said interactive television in particular tends to be a magnet for such litigation. “Companies come out of the woodwork,” he said. “You can’t countersue them because they don’t have a product.” In 2001, Pause Technologies filed a patent suit accusing TiVo of infringing its patent for rewinding, fast-forwarding and pausing live TV programs. TiVo, which holds more than 70 patents of its own, won on summary judgment, a ruling upheld last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Zinn is now gearing up for a trial scheduled to begin next month in Marshall, Texas. But this time, TiVo is on the offensive, alleging infringement of its multimedia “time warping system” by EchoStar Communications Corp., the country’s No. 2 direct broadcast satellite TV provider for more than 12 million subscribers. To keep costs down, Zinn tries to handle in-house as much legal work as possible. But he doesn’t pinch pennies when hiring outside counsel. Representing TiVo in the EchoStar case is Irell & Manella partner Morgan Chu in Los Angeles, who credits Zinn’s ability to direct TiVo’s legal strategy on a big-picture basis while simultaneously understanding the details of a case. “That’s not something that everyone does,” Chu said. “There are times when the devil is in the details, and being able to grasp them on an ongoing basis can be extraordinarily important.” Max Ochoa, an intellectual property lawyer in TiVo’s legal department, said that Zinn’s involvement in the case is significant. “He receives advice from Irell & Manella, but he ultimately decides what strategy and tactics to adopt in any major litigation.” Zinn declined to comment about the specifics of the trial, but said the mood is “confident and optimistic. “We believe we’re in the right,” he said simply. “We believe the jury will see it our way.”

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