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Vonage Barred From Using Verizon VoIP Patents 247

Posted by Zonk
from the those-are-my-patents-do-not-touch-them dept.
thefiremonk writes "Bloomberg reports that U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton has issued a permanent injunction against Vonage. The goal: to stop allowing customers to make calls to standard phone lines. 'U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton approved Verizon's request for a block today in Alexandria, Virginia. Hilton said he won't sign the order before a hearing in two weeks on Vonage's request for a stay. A jury found March 8 that Vonage infringed three patents and should pay Verizon $58 million.' Does this spell doom for the already troubled Vonage? "
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Vonage Barred From Using Verizon VoIP Patents

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  • Once again Big Business wins and the customer get screwed.


    Isn't Democracy wonderful?

    :)
    • Aren't all? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lenne (1050888) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:35PM (#18462111)
      Aren't all voip companies doing more or less the same?

      How many ways are there to connect voip to pstn?

      Leif
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by antarctican (301636)
      It is yet again another perfect example of how patents actually hinder innovation rather than spur it. A sad day.

      I haven't been following this but I'm not curious to dig deeper to see what exactly these patents are. As in, is it as simple as a patent on network->land line calls? And if so, that's not only an overly broad patent, but could mean the doom for the entire coip industry. Or even open source projects such as Asterisk. I certainly hope this patent turns out to be some very specific technolo
  • well (Score:3, Funny)

    by mastershake_phd (1050150) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:20PM (#18461803) Homepage
    They better come up with a none-infringing way to send calls from the internet to a phone line. Maybe a speaker a phone and some duct tape?
    • by fermion (181285)
      I believe you are looking for an acoustic coupler. We had to use this back when AT&T made the phones.
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:20PM (#18461805) Journal
    Actually, it's this kind of patent use (abuse) - restraint of trade - that should be forbidden. It should be prevented becuase of the monopoly and incumbent carrier status that Verizon holds on the wired telephone market.

    They are not using the patents to forward the condition of man, but rather to choke off a competitor in an estabilshed industry with an (effectively) insurmountable cost of entry using traditional methods.

    It's no surprise that Verizon is one of the top ten hated corporations.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by operagost (62405)

      They are not using the patents to forward the condition of man
      That's not the purpose of patents. Patents are used to encourage invention by limiting the ability of others to copy the inventor's work during a limited period.
      • by Cerebus (10185) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:49PM (#18462301) Homepage
        Which part of "To promote the progress of science and useful arts" is unclear?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by PPH (736903)

        That's not the purpose of patents. Patents are used to encourage invention by limiting the ability of others to copy the inventor's work during a limited period.

        Exactly. That's the problem with patents as currently implemented. The US Constitution empowers Congress:

        To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited
        Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective
        Writings and Discoveries;

        So the exclusive rights granted to authors and inventors is subject to their

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kenja (541830)
      OK.... so how big (in your opinion) does a company have to be before they should be forced to give away their research and Ip to competing companies?

      Not saying I agree with the situation, but the problem is not Verizon enforcing their patents but the patent process itself.
    • Every time this issue comes up, I have pleaded with nearly everybody to make a clear cut example where patents were actually useful to anybody outside of the legal community.

      There is one and only one semi-useful function that patents actually serve: they document the historical development of technology in a systematic fashion. In other words, the USPTO is really a bunch of poorly disguised historians and nothing more.

      I have known many individuals who have spent fortunes on developing patents, and I've bee
  • Juries (Score:4, Insightful)

    by morgan_greywolf (835522) * on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:22PM (#18461845) Homepage Journal
    This is what happens when you have technical cases decided by 12 ordinary citizens too stupid to get out of jury duty. It's why IBM doesn't want the SCO case to go to trial without a finding from the judge that it didn't infringe on any of SCO's copyrights. (If the summary judgement is granted and it does go to trial, the jury has to proceed on the idea that IBM hasn't violated any of SCO's IP.)

    Verizon is just suing to keep Vonage -- and every other company offering a similar service -- from making it irrelevant in the home phone market. Which is exactly what's happening.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by operagost (62405)

      This is what happens when you have technical cases decided by 12 ordinary citizens too stupid to get out of jury duty.
      I'm with you, dude. Voting is stupid too! Look at those idiots standing in line on election day! Better off playing WoW.
    • by Marillion (33728)

      1) There is no indication that a jury was involved. Trial by Jury is a right. It is not compulsory. Many corporate court battles take place without a jury because it reduces the risks associated with jurries

      2) What the F***? 12 ordinary citizens too stupid to get out of jury duty? Some of us are happy to serve and protect your right to trial by jury. The next time a Big Media legal thug drags your ass into a court room, you should be happy that a "smart person" who supports the right of trial by jury

      • 1) There is no indication that a jury was involved. Trial by Jury is a right. It is not compulsory. Many corporate court battles take place without a jury because it reduces the risks associated with jurries

        FTFA:

        U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton approved Verizon's request for a block today in Alexandria, Virginia. Hilton said he won't sign the order before a hearing in two weeks on Vonage's request for a stay. A jury found March 8 that Vonage infringed three patents and should pay Verizon $58 million.

        BTW --

        • by Marillion (33728)

          In my haste, I missed the jury bit in the article

          The Seventh Amendment [wikipedia.org] of the US Constitution says trial by jury in most civil cases is a right.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)
            My understanding is that the states typically don't guarantee you a jury trial unless there's a possible jail term at the end of your trial. A twenty dollar fine doesn't cut it :)
        • by terrymr (316118)
          I believe trial by jury is a right in any matter where more than $10 is involved.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Some of us are happy to serve and protect your right to trial by jury. The next time a Big Media legal thug drags your ass into a court room, you should be happy that a "smart person" who supports the right of trial by jury might actually decide in your favor.

        Generally speaking, the only way you can get on a jury is to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that you do not know a fucking thing about the case in question. Lawyers don't want knowledgeable witnesses on the jury, whether they (the lawyers) are goi

  • Like, for example, the patents being infringed?
  • The aritcle is decidely non-technical, beyond saying the infringement was over "a technology," and "a method for allowing Internet calls to reach traditional phone lines." Anyone have any real details on what's being fought over?
    • by interiot (50685) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:37PM (#18462145) Homepage

      Here's the original 7 patents [ipurbia.com]... #6,430,275, #6,137,869, #6,104,711, #6,282,574, #6,128,304, #6,298,062, and #6,359,880.

      It sounds like #6,430,275 (tiff [uspto.gov], pdf [pat2pdf.org], text/png [google.com]) is the one that's the VOIP/POTS bit.

      • As someone that has been working hard to develop some competency with VOIP serving, it seems that anyone trying to do anything with http://www.openser.org/ [openser.org] without voicemail or POTS services is royally screwed.

        You can't touch it.

        This one deserves a headline at http://www.chillingeffects.org/ [chillingeffects.org].

        Anyone have any ideas as to how one can operate a VOIP server for free and still pay the bandwidth bill each month? I'm serious, I'm open to anything
      • by Svartalf (2997)
        Can someone just club the USPTO collectively to death for that one? What Vonage is doing is no different from the mobile phone companies are freaking doing with Cell service terminiation- and I can assure you they're not paying royalties for that process
        nor is it something I'd consider patentable, really. Doing something counterintuitive that works better? That MIGHT be something
        someone could make a case for patenting, even in software, but this? AAAAARGH!
      • by Jason Pollock (45537) on Friday March 23, 2007 @06:43PM (#18465835) Homepage
        If it's 6,430,275, I personally developed the same class of product (PSTN/VoIP gateway with prepaid charging and authentication) in 98/99. We had been doing the same with ISUP and AIN variants even earlier.

        It should appear obvious to any telecom's protocol engineer that this is possible. It is even encouraged by the protocols.

        For example, INAP (ITU version of AIN in the patent), uses the same call model as ISUP, the circuit control protocol. ISUP and H.323 are both Q.931 protocols, therefore they also share the same call model. That makes it obvious (it was to us), that H.323 can be easily made to trigger an INAP call model. Obviously, the benefit is that this ensures that the applications can run unchanged on both the PSTN and the VoIP networks.

        And H.323 has been around for a lot longer than this patent.

        Once you understand that H.323 and ISUP are Q.931 variants, you see that all the work done to trigger IN applications on the various country and network ISUP variants is also prior art.
  • by mmell (832646) <mmell@hotmail.com> on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:27PM (#18461941)
    I thought that was just Vonage's marketing hype, not their business model!
  • Yep. (Score:5, Informative)

    by russotto (537200) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:27PM (#18461945) Journal
    If the order isn't stayed pending appeal, Vonage is dead; revenue drops to zero nearly overnight. So are all other independent VoIP providers, when Verizon gets around to crushing them.

    A concrete manifestation of a patent system out of control.
    • by interiot (50685)
      There are companies with bigger pockets who make money off of connecting VoIP calls to the legacy voice network (eg. Comcast, Time Warner, in combination with their cablemodem service), and presumably they're concerned about the patent. Is it ever the case that a larger company provides legal assistance to a smaller company in cases like this? Or would Verizon never go after Comcast/Time Warner if they think they'd lose, and therefore it's actually in Comcast/TimeWarner's best interests to stand back and
      • It's likely, at least in TimeWarner's case, that they have cross licensed these patents with Verizon, and are not a "target".
    • by Billosaur (927319) *

      So are all other independent VoIP providers, when Verizon gets around to crushing them.

      But Verizon won't... they won't have to. By picking on the popular kid, that will make the less popular kids fall into line and pay Verizon some cash for their transgressions rather than be bled to death by lawsuits. This kind of nonsense will only stop if Verizon decides to take on Comcast or Optimum Online.

    • > A concrete manifestation of a patent system out of control.

      Funny, I would have called it "extortion." But then I'm not a lawyer (yet).
  • by mulvane (692631) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:27PM (#18461949)
    Down with Vonage!! I had the service for 11 months. First 3 months was great, but then nothing but trouble after I deployed to the Gulf for 6 months. My wife tried to call them repeatedly to have it fixed and they kept blaming my ISP which after I got home I ruled out as it happened on my COMCAST, neighbors ATT, and Clearwire in local area. I could see one ISP being the problem, but not 3, and after I called again they said I wasn't qualified to make such assumptions. Funny, I can sure manage to make UHF/VHF, and SAT links and manage the LAN on a US Guided Missile Cruiser, but I wasn't technically smart enough to call the bullshit flag on the blame they focused on my ISP. Further, when the 10 month mark rolled around, I had military orders requiring me to move and at the time it was to a place I wouldn't have broadband, or hell, access at all, and they tried to pressure me into keeping the service and singing another year anyway. They just didn't get the fact that small islands sometimes don't have access. Then, they argued with me about how I owed them an early cancellation fee even though I was also canceling due to shitty service THEY couldn't fix. I had to end up also telling them a lie that I was not married, and I had no family who could make use of the account before they would close it. I had read horror stories at the time about people who had went over the 12 month period already and Vonage had refused to cancel the account, or had verbally said they would and the charges kept coming. I feared this so I even canceled the card. And low and behold, I started getting statements from my bank who issued a new card telling me about the activity that they were refusing.
    • You must have called the AOL customer service line by mistake.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dattaway (3088)
      For me, Vonage had a good service, but they were too aggressive. I also had a well documented case against Vonage. Their service was good in my case, but cancelling was a problem that lasted a year. I quickly learned their customer service were script junkies who didn't have an option for "cancel." I may have been a test case for them to see how far people would take it. I ended up giving my card company a statement and a dispute. Then I called Vonage once again and it got into a long shouting match w
      • Heh... I think they've mostly lost trust already- we just don't have alternatives in hand yet...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by drinkypoo (153816)
          Yeah, litigation just isn't necessary once we all have VoIP phones. That day is coming, albeit slowly. Sooner or later you'll just access people by DNS, instead of by phone number, making a VoIP call to them via IPv6. The telephone network as you know it is a strictly limited-time affair, and the cellular providers are the most scared because even 3G cellular data is SLOW AS HELL compared to, say, the current generation of DSL hardware, or WiMax, or basically anything else. I mean it's barely faster than sa
      • by jimicus (737525)
        otherwise the telephone industry may lose trust.

        MAY lose trust?

        I don't know about you guys in the US, but here in the UK I trust the average phone company about as far as I can throw them, their telephone exchange and all the fat arseholes who run the place.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dAzED1 (33635)
      I had great service, worked well when my net connection worked (and my net connection was indeed flaky), but I still canceled after a month and a half for various complicated reasons. They happily canceled, told me to keep the router, and said if I changed my mind to give them a call again. Was absolutely painless.

      My (true) anecdotal story conflicts with yours. Neither shows a trend.
    • by 3vi1 (544505)
      I've been using them for over a year now. I don't know how hard (or not) it is to quit, as I've had nothing but great service. Sorry to hear about all the problems you had, but they've been great to me.

      At any rate, I don't think you want them to go under based on Verizons patents. If they do go under, let it be due to customer reaction, not because of stupid patent abuse that will basically kill every VoIP provider.

      -J
  • by spectro (80839) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:28PM (#18461967) Homepage
    "A method of translating calls between the Internet and standard phones, call-waiting features and wireless handsets"

    - So they have a patent on transcoding from/to VoIP?, there's got to be some prior art on that
    - Call waiting?... are you kidding me?
    - Wireless handsets?, how does vonage infringe that?, VoIP got nothing to do with wireless handsets.

    Vonage needs to hire themselves some real lawyers, Boies seems pretty good at dragging lawsuits forever.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by russotto (537200)
      Remember, for the purpose of demonstrating prior art, the prior art has to be pretty much exactly the patented invention. However, for the purpose of demonstrating infringement, the alleged infringer's product just has to be close. This is a ridiculous state of affairs.
  • Skype (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rebmemeR (1056120)
    How could this affect Skype?
  • by rGauntlet (54921) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:30PM (#18461999) Homepage
    Via a Press Release on their site: http://pr.vonage.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=2 35198 [vonage.com]

    One interesting tidbit:

    "We are confident Vonage customers will not experience service interruptions or other changes as a result of this litigation," said Mike Snyder, Vonage's chief executive officer.
    .
    .
    "Our appeal centers on erroneous patent claim construction, and we remain confident that Vonage has not infringed on any of Verizon's patents - a position we will continue to vigorously assert in federal appeals court," said Sharon O'Leary, Vonage's executive vice president, chief legal officer and secretary. "Vonage relied on open-standard, off-the-shelf technology when developing its service. In fact, evidence introduced in court failed to prove that Vonage relied on Verizon's VoIP technology, and instead showed that in 2003 Verizon began exploring ways to copy Vonage's technology," she added.
    • And this press release is NOT going to keep me from looking at transferring my phone service Real Soon Now(TM) to another provider. As much as I like Vonage, I'm not going to ride this roller coaster of not knowing if or when my phone service will go off thanks to a company I've never done business with.
      • You could switch to another VoIP provider, but don't think for a minute that Verizon won't target them next. Or you could just go back to Verizon and help fund their terror war against VoIP.
  • by RingDev (879105) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:31PM (#18462025) Homepage Journal
    Seeing as how Vonage is required by law to connect callers to traditional 911 call centers (over standard phone copper) is the injunction, baring Vanage from connecting VoIP calls to POTS calls legal if it prevents those calls?

    -Rick
    • by cdrudge (68377) on Friday March 23, 2007 @03:17PM (#18462839) Homepage
      There are many technical details why I think the injunction was granted but a stay will also be issued. You point out one very good one just because millions currently use VoIP. There also would be catastrophic damage done to Vonage if the stay was granted but minimal damage to Verizon (and what damage could be recouped) if the stay was granted but later lifted.
  • millions will be without phones soon!

    Yeah, anarchy! I hope that was the intent of the injuction.

    Tom
  • aren't the carriers required to provide access to 911, regardless?

    Anyway - nothing will actually stop any off-shore our out-of-country IP phone services unless that kind of services are blocked in the broadband network, and that may also prove both inefficient and causing a stir.

    A secondary problem that I have seen is that a majority of all VoIP to analog boxes are bound to a service provider. That actually limits the development of VoIP today since the users aren't able to change operator unless they b

    • by dabraun (626287)
      That said, the boxes are cheap ($50), far less expensive than the new cell phone often needed to switch wireless providers. It's not much of a barrier.
  • Just a thought (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cauchy (61097) on Friday March 23, 2007 @02:40PM (#18462187)
    Have any of us bothered to look at the patents? Are they good and valid? Did Verizon truly invent something, and thus, perhaps, because of their investment, deserve some level of protection against theft in exchange for them contributing to the overall body of knowledge? Perhaps these patents are bogus, but I haven't seen anyone in this discussion yet attack Verizon/the PTO on the merits of the patents.

    I agree that the patent system is broken, but, as I've said before, patents are more important to the little guy than the big guy. Without patents, if I as a little person invent something, there is nothing to stop Microsoft or IBM or some GE from copying my invention. Then, it just becomes a matter of who can out market who, and the little guy will lose this battle.
    • by jacquesm (154384)
      I had a primitive voip-pots gateway back in oh... 95 or so, hacked with speak-freely and some
      old soundcard hardware. Worked pretty good too !

      j.
      • by Cauchy (61097)
        However, are the patents about the process of VOIP, or are they some specific implementation aspect? VOIP as a concept may be covered by prior art or obviousness, but is the lawsuit about something more specific like a compression scheme or something?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by DogDude (805747)
      Have any of us bothered to look at the patents? Are they good and valid? Did Verizon truly invent something, and thus, perhaps, because of their investment, deserve some level of protection against theft in exchange for them contributing to the overall body of knowledge? Perhaps these patents are bogus, but I haven't seen anyone in this discussion yet attack Verizon/the PTO on the merits of the patents.

      By "us", do you mean the kids and geeks who read Slashdot, as opposed to the professional patent attorn
      • Considering... (Score:3, Informative)

        by Svartalf (2997)
        ...that I've seen the quality of "professional" IP counsel up close, I can tell you that many of them
        aren't any better at it than we are, believe it or not. I've got one of the better lawyers in the field
        as my patent attorney, and he's razor sharp and what meets your apparent picture of them. The previous
        joker, also a lawyer at the Law Firm we retained, heh... Many, VERY many of them only pretend to know
        what is and isn't viable or not. If I were Vonage, I'd have fired their litigators and got better one
    • by Svartalf (2997)
      They're intrinsically garbage, tying "internet" to something that's prior art and basically done for
      mobile services already.
    • patents are more important to the little guy than the big guy. Without patents, if I as a little person invent something, there is nothing to stop Microsoft or IBM or some GE from copying my invention.

      Patents have two purposes:

      1. Defensive: Have enough patents, if someone sues you for violating a patent, sue them back for violating one of yours.
      2. Offensive: Keep a competitor out of the market by suing them.

      Neither of these help the little guy for one simple fact - he's unable to compete with th
  • The primary thing I care about is uninterrupted service, at my current service and price level, with my current telephone number.

    If Verizon intends to squish Vonage, they had better be completely prepared to seamlessly transition me to their service, at my current price and service level. If they are willing and able to do that, I'm OK with it. (Well, I'm not thrilled with this abuse of patent law, but I can't do much about that myself.)

    Is there anyway I can contact the court system and have them consider t
  • I hate Verizon to begin with for SO many reasons. So I'll put that up front.

    That said, reading through the patent and the claims, it doesn't really look like anything all that original. The concept of translating POTS to IP to POTS had already existed by 1999. As far as I recall, Sprint, MCI, UUNet, and such were already engaged in that, as was good old AT&T. As for a public subscriber system, no, but internally I do believe they already had that tech in place.

    Additionally, Verizon envisioned a PC usi

  • Patent 6430275 (Score:2, Informative)

    I quickly read through the patent that appears to be at issue here (6430275) and I don't think it's purely the connection from a VOIP connection to a PSTN/POTS line (although that's covered I don't think it passes muster from a non-obviousness/prior art standpoint). The meat of this patent deals with call tracking and billing (starting at around page 5) and to me it stands out as the most reasonable area to pursue vonage. I could be wrong too. =) Nothing in the application struck me as terribly original.
  • ...a government that granted a known abusive monopoly which they themselves helped to create, ineffectively control, and are now helping to reestablish, because the stunningly obvious idea of sending digitized voice from a network to a phone system was given a patent.

    For about two months in 1984 I worked with a couple friends on the idea of using the Covox Voicemaster as the basis of creating such a system. So stunningly obvious is not enough. Let's try amazingly hugantical ginormously stunningly obvious.

    BT
    • Oh my!!! That's a blast from the past! I haven't heard that term is SO long. I spent hours trying to write a voice recognizion system that would capture all your phonemes and pitch, and match it by playing the same phoneme and pitch of someone else's voice. With the commodore 64, you can understand why I didn't go very far in that effort. Good Times. Thanks for the memories of '88.
  • As I was thinking about it, many companies are using VoIP now. Cisco AVVID and such have gotten some market share. These have VoIP phones that talk to regular phone lines. AT&T and other cable companies have VoIP over their cable plant to provide phone service. If VoIP to PSTN is all owned by Verizon, then an entire market will be gone. If it is a specific implementation of VoIP, the Vonage will have some serious work to do in two weeks. So, is it just Vonage, or are many Asterisk servers illegal
  • Prsuming this is related to the VoIP->POTS connection patent (which would be one of the few that I would consider a relatively legitimate patent), then may I point out that there's plenty of prior art out there. One prime example is Net2Phone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net2Phone) which was a company founded in 1996 to provide precisely this service. I remember using it circa 1996 or 1997 as a way to make transatlantic calls easily and cheaply. It worked. It wasn't perfect... hell it was barely even go
  • The average juror is profoundly tech-ignorant, particularly because many students and "intellectual" jurors are eliminated during voir dire. Jurors can be disqualified for cause when they are expert in an area that is relevant to the trial because they may outthink or second-guess expert witnesses, in effect testifying during deliberations.

    I don't know how to get around the problem that in highly technical trials, jurors are selected so that they have no way to judge the facts of the case. Juries are suppo
  • In VerizonDollars(tm), that's almost enough to buy a PS3!

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