Apple licenses a TV program guide

Deal with Rovi could bolster its set-top box or serve as a precursor to an all-in-one TV.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission Rovi Corp. (rovi) announced Monday that it had signed a multiyear deal giving Apple (aapl) access to undisclosed portions of its TV-related intellectual properties.

Rovi, formerly known as Macrovision, purchased TV Guide for its VCR Plus and electronic program guide in 2008 and sold the money-losing magazine six months later. Today it holds a rich portfolio of TV-related patents that cover, among other things, the program guide and various digital content protection technologies.

In a note to clients, Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster interpreted the announcement as "further evidence" that Apple is using its set-top box business to soften up the market for an all-in-one Apple-branded TV set that it will introduce within the next two to four years.

Meanwhile, Munster estimates that the revamped $99 Apple TV unveiled earlier this month will more than triple set-top sales for the company, from about 400,000 units per year to more than 1.5 million in 2011.

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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