Once upon a time (that is to say, in 1998) I was working for Optus Multimedia, a division of Optus Vision – one of Australia's cable providers, later purchased by SingTel. Despite this being my second real job out of Uni, I was styled with the grand title of Creative Director of Broadband Content R&D (alongside the most excellent Anson Parker). It was an intoxicating time before the first .com crash and we filled our days with experiments in virtual worlds, multiplayer gaming, videoconferencing and other then-exotic attempts to figure out what to do with their brand new 10Mb/sec (symmetrical!) HFC connections.

And of course we also looked into internet video delivery. Optus had their own cable TV offering, so we needed an EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) that would work over the Web and on the 640x480 pixel WebTV.

I am reminded of this because I now read that Rupert Murdoch thinks he owns the idea of an Electronic Programme Guide that uses a grid layout, based on this 1999 patent. Known as the Gemstar Patent, it claims to cover any EPG using a grid layout.

For the last decade the prior owners of that patent have been extracting fealty hither and yon, in the form of license agreements to anyone who wants to put up a service to tell people what’s on telly, and suing them if they demur – but at least permitting them to operate. But times and strategies change. Now that Mr. Murdoch has the patent, Freeview Australia seems to be having some trouble securing a license.

So without further ado, here is some prior art for EPGs with a grid layout, from May 1998. As I recall Anson had designed the nav, setting the style with his signature up-to-the-minute typography and I geeked out over the information design, settling on the grid below.

 Note: grid layout, customise button for changing order of channels, and tiny WebTV-compatible resolution

Note: grid layout, customise button for changing order and visibility of channels, and tiny WebTV-compatible resolution.

[Update: on November 27, 2009 The London High Court found patents EP 0969662, EP 1377049 and EP 1613066 to be invalid. Decision upheld at the Court of Appeal of England and Wales on March 29, 2011.]