The fierce court battle between digital video recorder pioneer TiVo Inc. and cable television giant EchoStar Communications Corp. has been shunted to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which may signal the increasing role of that office. If the trend catches on, it could delay outcomes of patent disputes by years.

A rarely used rule lets patents be challenged in a bureaucratic review process rather than in court. In Texas on Monday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven stayed EchoStar’s countersuit against TiVo until the patent office decides on TiVo’s request for such an inter partes exam.

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