With less than a month until Quibi officially launches, things appear to have gotten a little rocky for the mobile-first video streaming service. The company has been forced to cancel its star-studded launch event over coronavirus fears, and it’s now being accused of stealing its key feature from another video company, an allegation Quibi is now suing over—and hoo buddy, is this one messy public beef.
Quibi’s whole shtick centers on a feature called Turnstyle, where a user watching videos from their phone can switch the orientation from horizontal to vertical, and vice versa, to see a completely different perspective or shot. This feature, coupled with its short-form videos of 10 minutes or less, is intended to be a primary lure for subscribers in a sea of other video streaming apps for mobile. It’s essentially the entire point.
But in a letter sent to Quibi in January, interactive video company Eko accused Quibi of ripping off its patented concept for the orientation-based video that Eko claims it shared with Quibi executives, the Wall Street Journal first reported Monday. In a copy of that letter included in Quibi’s filing, Eko further claims that it had discussions with employees of Snap about potentially using Eko’s horizontal-to-vertical video tech on its own platform.
Eko also claims that three Snap employees who were privy to “confidential information and trade secrets, including proprietary source code” for Eko’s technology later left Snap and joined Quibi. Two of those former Snap employees were later credited as the inventors of Quibi’s Turnstyle technology in its patent, Eko alleges.
Eko claims that numerous meetings between Quibi and Eko executives occurred over a period of years, including one in 2017 for a possible investment in Eko that would give Quibi a majority stake. In the timeline laid out by Eko in its letter, Eko claims that it met with Quibi last March to demo its video technology, a month prior to which Eko claims Quibi said it hadn’t yet started developing its Turnstyle video product. (Quibi said in its filing that no NDAs were in place during the meetings and no trade secrets were exchanged.) Quibi showcased its Turnstyle feature at this year’s CES.
“Eko was stunned to learn that the Quibi technology is a near-identical copy of its own, from the patented smart video response system down to the way files are created, formatted and stored. Eko patent was granted in October 2019,” a spokesperson for Eko told Gizmodo in a statement. “Eko will take the legal actions necessary to defend its intellectual property and looks forward to demonstrating its patent rights to the court.”
Quibi is now pushing back on the claims. The company on Monday filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California asking for a declaratory judgment over Eko’s claims, which it argues are baseless and harmful to its reputation. A spokesperson for Quibi also disputed elements of Eko’s timeline, telling Gizmodo that it began developing Turnstyle in late 2018 and received a patent for the tech in February 2020.
“Our Turnstyle technology was developed internally at Quibi by our talented engineers and we have, in fact, received a patent for it,” the spokesperson said. “These claims have absolutely no merit and we will vigorously defend ourselves against them in court.”
Further, in its complaint, Quibi states that the individuals who joined the company from Snap and who Eko claims had access to it “source code” and trade secrets “are not engineers or computer programmers, do not read source code, and would have had no reason to request or obtain Eko code. In any event, no Quibi employee brought or used any Eko trade secrets, computer code, or proprietary information to Quibi.”
A spokesperson for Eko, meanwhile, said the declaratory judgment motion was “nothing more than a PR stunt,” further alleging that Quibi filed suit “only after learning the Wall Street Journal was going to publish an article exposing allegations of Quibi’s theft of Eko’s technology.” Quibi denies this is accurate, stating in its complaint that it filed suit after repeated attempts by Eko to contact parties with its stolen trade secrets allegation, including Apple over the availability of the app in its App Store as well as publications that included the Wall Street Journal.
Who needs another streaming service when you have this kind of messy behavior playing out before us on the public stage, am I right?
Quibi is launching April 6 with a two-tier subscription plan: an ad-supported version for $5 per month and an ad-free version for $8 per month. Quibi will launch with 50 original series when it rolls out next month, and it’s managed to wrangle a dizzying amount of celebrity talent. If any of those celebrities planned to attend Quibi’s launch party next month, though, too bad. The company told Gizmodo that it has “decided to cancel our pre-launch event party out of an abundance of caution as we continue to monitor COVID-19.” The Hollywood Reporter first reported the cancelation.
It’s been a tough week for a newbie streaming service, to be sure. But something tells me Quibi and it’s stupidly rich executives will be just fine.
Update 3/11/20: On Tuesday, Eko filed its own suit against Quibi for “patent infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets.” The drama continues.