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Vonage Goes To Court III - The AT&T Suit 113

Posted by Zonk
from the this-story-is-getting-old dept.
kickabear writes "AT&T has filed a lawsuit against Vonage, claiming patent infringement. This is the third major lawsuit to have been brought against Vonage by a major phone company. Vonage lost the previous two lawsuits, brought by Sprint-Nextel and Verizon. How much more money can Vonage afford to give away? How can Vonage educate a jury on prior art? 'It said in a filing to the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission that AT&T is seeking injunctive relief, compensatory and treble damages and attorneys' fees in unspecified amounts. Vonage said the lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Wisconsin on October 17.'"
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Vonage Goes To Court III - The AT&T Suit

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  • surprisationingness (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sh3l1 (981741) *
    I'd be really surprised if they survive this one.
    • by bogaboga (793279) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:20PM (#21052273)
      And here is the code: -

      If (court_fines > available_cash) then

      # increase fees paid by customers

      (monthly_subscription_fee = monthly_subscription_fee * 1.25)

      end

      Some code would of course be responsible to check whether customers are beginning to jump ship after say a month.

      Guys, they will survive this one.
      • I'm sure there's a patent troll somewhere that owns the IP to the algorithm you just posted - Automated Method of Determining Customer Rate Increase
  • Patent # (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DustyShadow (691635) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:14PM (#21052237) Homepage
    Anyone know the # of the patent?
    • Re:Patent # (Score:5, Informative)

      by BrianWCarver (569070) on Friday October 19, 2007 @11:19PM (#21052593) Homepage
      6,487,200 [uspto.gov] The full Complaint [sharealike.org] (pdf)
      • Re:Patent # (Score:4, Interesting)

        by PhotoGuy (189467) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @07:24AM (#21054513) Homepage
        The patent (upon a very brief read by unprofessional eyes) seems to broadly be about packet-based voice over IP (well, isn't that all Voice of IP?)

        So AT&T completely owns VOIP? That seems pretty damn broad to me, or am I missing that the patent is somehow more narrow than that?
        • You have to read the claims to know exactly what the patent covers. (I don't know what you read but stating that you are unprofessional makes me think you may not know this.) The specification (everything else in the patent) can say whatever it wants but only the claims can be infringed. It often does take a patent professional to tell you exactly what the claims are claiming though.
        • by sglines (543315)
          Look when it was filed - 2002. I know there is prior on this one. I rmember trying to chat over the internet long before then. This is getting nuts.
  • by timmarhy (659436) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:16PM (#21052253)
    and people think RIAA are evil cocksuckers, teleco company's leave them for dead.
    • by Z00L00K (682162) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @02:02AM (#21053363) Homepage
      In the end it seems likely that the alleged patent violations are harming the economy and development in a country in decline. The whole system seems corrupt and there are fights over the remains.

      The US dollar has fallen to almost half it's value compared to the Swedish Krona in a few years. It's falling compared to other economies too.

      To cut the losses, both economical and trust-wise it's time for a complete rebuild of the legal system regarding property rights and estimation of value loss. Suing people for ridiculous amounts of money won't help either. Software patents should be declared invalid - retroactively so that all court rulings regarding software patent breaks can be invalidated.

      And the practice of being able to pick patent fees from the users of a technology that has a certain patent is completely hopeless. If anybody should be held responsible it's the manufacturer - not the user. If the manufacturer is in a foreign country - use the customs office to take care of the problem for all future cases.

      Especially software patents are bad - because they often are applied to a certain detail, and the patents should have been dismissed as obvious. The effort to write code may be great for one programmer but made on the fly by another without even realizing that the first programmer has gotten a patent for the solution. Who is to blame? Who is responsible? Is it really "protection of assets" going on or is it just a spanner in the works of development and ultimately decreases the ability of the country to compete on the international market?

      What most rulings in cases regarding software patents fails to take into account is that software is a volatile international thing - almost like the air we breathe or the water we drink - and it has no boundaries. (unless you build a really great firewall or resort to computers only able to run a nationally assigned OS and programming language). Each case where a patent software is granted is another nail in the coffin for development.

      The use of patents forces you to look back all the time to make sure nobody infringes on your patent or tries to make it invalid. The current economic lifespan of a patent should be reduced to 3 to 4 years after which it only causes harm. If less effort is put into patents and more into development you will see a lot of more development done.

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        In the end it seems likely that the alleged patent violations are harming the economy and development in a country in decline. The whole system seems corrupt and there are fights over the remains. The US dollar has fallen to almost half it's value compared to the Swedish Krona in a few years. It's falling compared to other economies too.

        I'm not sure what economic crackpipe you're smoking from, but the bolded text has nothing to do with the rest of your argument. Patents are quite possibly the last thing to blame for the weakness of the American dollar.

        I would've thought that there was at least one issue that's a bit more obvious... like the ~3 trillion in additional debt that have been added during Bush's Administration.

        Long story short: many countries that were buying US debt decided to slow their buying, stop it, or even sell some previ

      • Maybe Vonage should take up IBMs offer. I think they have patented some kind of patent counter sue method, that might allow Vonage to counter sue under some of IBMs vast patent portfolio. Like a buying insurance after the fire, but for the fire thing.
  • by Belial6 (794905) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:31PM (#21052335)
    As a Vonage Customer, I will continue to use their superior service, even if the price does have to increase.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Damarkus13 (1000963)
      As a Vonage customer, I will continue to use their low quality service, so long as it still has the lowest pricetag.
      • by Raineer (1002750) *

        As a Vonage customer, I will continue to use their low quality service, so long as it still has the lowest pricetag.
        I've never had one single issue with Vonage, and it's the cheapest out of all of them. What have you had go wrong?
        • by Ridor (14731)
          I've used vonage for three years. Not only is their service good, but they are much cheaper
          than the service offered by the cable company(I have no interest in getting an old pots line again) and they have room to pass some costs along.
          Instead of letting the marketplace decide, the telcos are using the courts to force their higher-priced and inferior service on consumers. Other examples are Verizon suing over the 700 mhz auction, and AT&T's attempt to silence criticism in forums.
        • by RandomJoe (814420)
          I haven't had any major issues, but the audio quality is definitely lacking on occasion, with lots of glitches and echo. I'm not sure just why it happens, the bad times don't match my peak Inet usage so I guess it's an issue outside my home. And I can't use a modem on the line, even though they said I would be able to when I asked up front. (Not that I expected it to work, but they did say it would. I occasionally need to call older dialup systems for work. Now I VPN to a computer at the office with a
          • by Belial6 (794905)
            I would guess that your ISP is screwing with your lines. The only time I have any audio problems with my line is when I am doing a massive download that is consuming all of my bandwidth. I have used fax machines on my Vonage line, which is basically a modem, and hand no problem, but if you are getting echoing, then it is not a surprise that the modem doesn't work.

            It sounds like your ISP is a cable company with a competing service, so I wouldn't be surprised if they were intentionally screwing with your
            • by Raineer (1002750) *

              The only thing that interferes with my Vonage is if I am seeding a torrent at anything past 20kB/s. 768kb/s converts to roughly 96kB/s upload, so I guess (at max sound quality settings) Vonage needs a good portion of that to work with

              It is the nature of the beast with shared lines though, if the guy in the apartment next to me was sharing a torrent at high bandwidth I guess I would be screwed then too.

        • Dropped calls (especially when the call waiting beep occurs), low audio quality, horrible equipment (24hrs then a reset or it losses sync), still no E911 (they continue to be unable to locate my address). I'm not saying it's horrible, just that it's the the bottom rung as far as phone service, but as long as it's cheaper than a land line I will continue to happily pay the bill.

          And I would really hate to see then driven out of buisness by a few jealous telcos.

          • by Raineer (1002750) *

            Dropped calls (especially when the call waiting beep occurs), low audio quality, horrible equipment (24hrs then a reset or it losses sync), still no E911 (they continue to be unable to locate my address). I'm not saying it's horrible, just that it's the the bottom rung as far as phone service, but as long as it's cheaper than a land line I will continue to happily pay the bill.

            And I would really hate to see then driven out of buisness by a few jealous telcos.

            Interesting... Must be something regional in your area or something with your bandwidth. Vonage is better sound quality than POTS in my area (POTS is muffled, picks up almost no high tones), I never have to reset the equipment and the only time I've gotten dropped calls is if I am uploading a large file and don't limit the upload speed.

    • I looked at Vonage and decided it's still not that great of a deal. I use CallCentric [callcentric.com] myself. Two cents a minute and you only pay for what you use. They support SIP as well. The best part is, if you want to cancel, you don't have to talk to a customer retention specialist to do it.
  • Patents are Evil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pnewhook (788591) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:32PM (#21052349)

    Stories like this are really starting to annoy me. So may times we hear that a company that is just doing good businees gets sued into obivion for no real good reason.

    As I'm going through patent hell myself right now, I've come to the conclusion that patents solely exist to stifle and restrict innovation. They no longer protect the inventor in any way. The only people getting rich off of patents are the lawyers.

    Patents have outlived their usefullness and the entire system should be scrapped.

    • Re:Patents are Evil (Score:4, Informative)

      by dgatwood (11270) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:55PM (#21052465) Journal

      Patents have outlived their usefullness and the entire system should be scrapped.

      Welcome to ten years ago.

    • by cybereal (621599) on Friday October 19, 2007 @11:55PM (#21052781) Homepage
      In the narrow view of this scenario you seem to have a point. But in the grand view of all invention you have completely lost your footing. If a simple swap of patent ownership was made, you'd be happy to see Vonage protected by these old patents that they supposedly infringe.

      The real problem is the requirement to maintain a patent. Companies seem to require no active use and no context definition for a given patent. I think reform would solve the problem, if it could include certain division of patenting, such as, into particular markets for requiring patent claims to specify rather detailed scenarios of use. Then in 10 years, if some new company comes along and uses the same technology for entirely different purposes, or in a different market, then the patent wouldn't apply to them.

      Furthermore, if a company is awarded in any way shape or form a kind of monopoly (such as cable companies or telephone companies awarded "natural" monopolies due to the practical realities of running cables and pipes) then they should forfeit any and all patent rights until said monopoly is relinquished. Perhaps there could be some context rules for that as well. Say, if AT&T has any natural monopolies to provided internet access then any patents used for the purpose of doing business over the internet should be forfeit in return for the huge gift of that monopoly.

      These or other ideas come and go. It's too bad nobody really cares besides the minorities that actually understand and see the impact. The masses, the ones who actually vote, never hear of this and thusly, don't care. Because the voters don't care, the politicians don't bother to address it for their resumé a.k.a. platform, because it's simply bad marketing. Even if it was a great and intelligent move, too many potential voters would see it as not in their interests and not vote. This is why politicians do such strange things. They are motivated to keep their jobs. Wouldn't you be?

      • by MrKaos (858439)
        Good call dood. Although in some industries patents are useful when it comes to Software I don't think it is.

        Perhaps it's because Software patents stops software evolving, the market(s) stop evolving good product and everybody just gets litigous. After the dust settles it takes a while for the market to get the shit products it should have been expecting in beta when the lawsuits began.

        • by cybereal (621599)
          Frankly, software patents make zero sense whatsoever in any realm, ever. The only exception I can think of is if you are patenting from the most global scope in a very specific situation. For example, if you invented 100% original hardware and patented the software interfacing methods for that hardware. This wouldn't really be a software patent, but some might misconstrue it that way.

          The reason that software patents are nonsense has nothing to do with virtues of rights, sharing, innovation or any of that
          • by MrKaos (858439)
            My bad, that line should have read...

            Although in some industries patents are useful, when it comes to the Software industry I don't think they are.

            I've got tonsilitis, so sorry about not previewing properly. Is it known how many algorithm's have been discovered so far in computer science?

          • by pnewhook (788591)

            In Canada you cannot patent software on its own, simply because it does not pass the crieteria of being useful. Software on it's own does nothing and therefore is not useful.

            Software can only be patented as part of an overall device that does something useful. So if you patented say a GPS unit that contained software that's fine as you can patent the entire device, but you couldn't patent just the software that was in the GPS unit. You could copyright it however.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ScrewMaster (602015)
        They are motivated to keep their jobs. Wouldn't you be?

        Well, the way the system was originally set up, they weren't supposed to be concerned about that. The idea was that individuals (from all walks of life) would serve a term in Congress, go back to whatever it was they did prior to that, and then live under the laws they made. It was a natural negative feedback loop, and it was brilliant: chalk up another one for the Founders. Then the idea of a "career politician" or a "professional politician" came i
      • by pnewhook (788591)

        In the narrow view of this scenario you seem to have a point. But in the grand view of all invention you have completely lost your footing. If a simple swap of patent ownership was made, you'd be happy to see Vonage protected by these old patents that they supposedly infringe.

        Actually no. I've got no grudge against AT&T - I actually worked for them at one point in my career. I'm advocating the immediate cancellation of all patents (except design patents that actually take some creativity).

        How about g

    • by Ozwald (83516)
      I actually think software patents are a good thing if used properly (what we see here is misuse). Lets say I come up with a great idea. Under disclosure tell my friends, some potential customers, and get some short term investment money. Take time off work to get the patent filed, then look for bigger investors. If a corporation wants to buy or license it, the investors get a return and even if I never make the product I've officially succeeded as an inventor. Or I get more investment money from investors,
      • by pnewhook (788591)

        I actually think software patents are a good thing if used properly (what we see here is misuse). Lets say I come up with a great idea. Under disclosure tell my friends, some potential customers, and get some short term investment money.

        But why bother with a patent? If it's a GUI idea, then you can get a design patent. If it's an algorithm, well you cannot patent math. If it's a better way of writing something, then the patent is unenforceable since you can always get the same output by writing it anothe

  • Damages from patent infringement - $35
    Attorney Fees - $550 million

    The lawyers win again...
  • skunks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:33PM (#21052359)
    Damn telcos took public infrastructure bought and paid for and built up over years and did diddly squat with it other than running it as a cash cow, and now for some magical reason they get to own all those pipes. Why is this?? Those pipes rightfully should be public infrastructure like the roads. I *clearly* remember before the big breakup having the rented hard wired phone, and lining up as a kid to talk to grandma with all the siblings for 30 seconds apiece because it cost so much for long distance. Comes along some companies like vonage who prove it can be done much cheaper and more efficiently, and they get sued.


    We need the People's ubiquitous wireless mesh network, something we can use for voice and data and just "route around" the current information bottlenecks, which are the big telcos with the entrenched monopoly mindset and WAY too much power in the legislative process. Now watch these assholes gobble up more of the so called publics airwaves in the next spectrum auction, so they can lock in more control and profits. Screw it, they should be disallowed from even bidding, it should just be mandated it is for the creation of the universal wireless network, something needing not much at all in the way of plutocratic middlemen companies and their precious stolen infrastructure.

    • by Adambomb (118938)
      If I ever have a ridiculous amount of money, or if I ever am in a position to influence such a person, I would entirely suggest a Johnny WAP-Seed crew to find effective ways to cover even one town. Just to show whats possible.
    • P.U. WMN doesn't seem like the best acronym to get the ladies on board, but then again, judging by my own romantic life, ladies aren't going to dig us no matter how cool our acronyms are...

      Me: How's about me you go to someplace private, where we can get a little PVP action going, if you know what I'm saying...
      Her: Oh, yeah, baby. That sounds really- (grabs mace from her purse and hits me with a liberal dose)...
      Me: Ow! Ow! Fuck that burns! But -ow!- that's still pretty -ow!- hot how -fuck!- self-reliant
    • Damn telcos took public infrastructure bought and paid for and built up over years

      I posted on this the other day, but it will bear repeating.

      Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his telephone at the Centennial Exhibition - our first World's Fair - in 1876. The year Custer died at The Little Big Horn.

      AT&T was incorporated in 1877 and privately financed from day one. The first Bell telephone exchange opened in 1878. The Bell system was offering long-distance services before the invention of the vacuum

      • But they are not significant in the evolution of the technology, they are insignificant in terms of capital investment in infrastructure.

        • by KlomDark (6370)
          The power of this space station is insignificant compared to the power of The Force.
  • by westlake (615356) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:39PM (#21052383)
    How can Vonage educate a jury on prior art?

    Vonage has had two chances to frame a defense that would be persuasive to a judge and jury - and failed in both. The reasonable conclusion is that it doesn't have a defense.

  • by mind21_98 (18647) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:39PM (#21052385) Homepage Journal
    Yep, the telcos are trying to kill them. They're just going to keep finding stuff till Vonage dies. Then the telcos can increase their prices since they end up being the only game in town. Simple as that.
  • lol (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spykemail (983593) on Friday October 19, 2007 @10:54PM (#21052463) Homepage
    If you can't compete with a superior business model your best bet is to sue it.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Raineer (1002750) *

      If you can't compete with a superior business model your best bet is to sue it.
      That's exactly what is happening. Comcast's joke of a triple play STARTS at $10 higher a month in my area and that's just the initial 6 months, after that it's a full $20 a month over Vonage. I'd like to remind everyone who's talking shit on Vonage that you're only sinking yourselves if you're actually rooting for the telcos to win every time. Hope you like good ole' Ma Bell Round Two.
    • by sponga (739683)
      If you can't make a superior product, why not copy it than.

      See it works both ways.
  • God in heaven what is this about? I have been a very happy Vonage customer from 2005. Where are the super lawyers to help save Vonage with this? Vonage is beyond the underdog here. Sorry - no trolling here - just emotion.
  • Blood in the water (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sweatyboatman (457800) <sweatyboatman AT hotmail DOT com> on Friday October 19, 2007 @11:38PM (#21052693) Homepage Journal
    The things Verizon and Sprint have patents on, AT&T has patents on. All big telcos have thousands of patents covering every aspect of the telephone industry. And now with the loss in the Verizon case and a settlement in the Sprint case, it's clear that Vonage is incapable of defending their business model. It's time (and perhaps past time) for anyone with a patent claim to get in on the game.

    Vonage is no longer a viable company. They are just a lump of cash, hemorrhaging out to anyone who looks at them crossly. Right now the game is for the tens/hundreds of millions of dollars Vonage has in cash. But that's just the appetizer; the real prize is the millions of Vonage customers who can be converted over to a "Triple Play" package.
    • So here is the part I don't understand... If they all have patents... why doesn't Verizon sue Sprint and Sprint sue ATT and ATT sue NTTDocomo and....
      • by Dun Malg (230075) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @12:24AM (#21052911) Homepage

        So here is the part I don't understand... If they all have patents... why doesn't Verizon sue Sprint and Sprint sue ATT and ATT sue NTTDocomo and....
        It begins as a sort of "mexican standoff", where the big guys each hold a big chunk of critical patent space and no one company is in any position to assert their patent position in court for fear the others will counter-sue. They then cross-license with one another, leaving the small group of large established companies free to pursue all things telephone. Any newcomers to the market face the impossible task of finding a way through this patent minefield that the big companies are free to ignore.
        • They then cross-license with one another, leaving the small group of large established companies free to pursue all things telephone. Any newcomers to the market face the impossible task of finding a way through this patent minefield that the big companies are free to ignore.

          It's remarkable how much that sounds like "conspiracy", isn't it? Also bears a striking resemblance to "price-fixing".
          • by amorsen (7485)
            It's remarkable how much that sounds like "conspiracy", isn't it? Also bears a striking resemblance to "price-fixing".

            It has the advantage over price-fixing that it is perfectly legal.
            • Not necessarily. Agreeing to not sue each other over patent violations is one thing (they can assign patent rights any way they like): but when the big boys collectively use those portfolios and their legal teams to suppress legitimate competition they've crossed the line. The end result of this anticompetitive activity is that their profitability goes up at our expense, as our options disappear. That's what they're doing, and they aren't supposed to be allowed to do that.

              Part of the function of governme
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @12:07AM (#21052837) Journal
    I didn't realize until now how much AT&T and Verizon are in bed. Google saw this when the 700mhz spectrum went up for auction. The government is supposed to regulate monopolies, but monopolies seem to be doing the regulation of the government.
    • by tgd (2822)
      I'm hoping Google takes their thumbs out of their collective posteriors and does something useful with Grand Central (like get it out of Beta and start allowing number porting).

      If Google wants to smack down the telcos, GC is the best way to do it. When I can keep my number for life and its *trivial* to change underlying providers, the providers will have to shape up very quickly.
  • So say Vonage goes belly up in a few months... does anyone know of similair VOIP solutions? There's no way I'm going back to a telco land line.
    • Who uses landlines? What a waste of money.
    • by WK2 (1072560)

      So say Vonage goes belly up in a few months... does anyone know of similair VOIP solutions? There's no way I'm going back to a telco land line.

      I recommend trying gizmo [gizmoproject.com]. The most popular VOIP solution, at least in my crowd, is skype [skype.com]. And there is wengo [wengophone.com], who has a GPL'd client.

    • by cyberkahn (398201)
      After moving from the defunct Sunrocket to Telelblend (Teleblend was awful) I switched to Packet8 and I have been very happy.
  • to the "isn't this all getting a little ridiculous".

    Because it does.

    Ridicule us.

  • Collusion? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by the_greywolf (311406) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @01:47AM (#21053301) Homepage

    Can't Vonage sue Verizon, Sprint and AT&T for collusion and conspiracy under the RICO act or some other suitable anti-competition law?

    Surely there's proof!

  • I will be happy to see Vonage go under solely because their commercials make me want to kill myself.
  • They got their internet deregulation, so they can censor whatever content they want. They're going to get their retroactive immunity from breaking the FISA laws. And now they're going to shut down their competitors. At least they weren't able to buy off Senator Dodd.
  • by Secrity (742221) on Saturday October 20, 2007 @06:57AM (#21054423)
    These sorts of patent lawsuits are nothing new. Henry Ford was just about sued into oblivion because of the Seldon patent and Western Union tried to sue Alex Bell into oblivion (retro-irony). RCA owned patents on radio and totally controlled production of radios in the US. RCA and AT&T both have a long tradition of filing lawsuits to drive out competition. AT&T and RCA were part of a very small group of companies that cross licensed their vacuum tube patents and drove startups out of business.
  • I used to pay $50 for a basic phone line. I thought it was crazy. Then I got DSL and I had to have the phone line for the DSL, but I never used it. I only used my cell phone. Then I moved to a city where Cable Internet was way better then DSL so I never got a land line and never missed it. Now I am married and the wife "likes" the regular phone over a cell phone, we ended up getting Vonage at $15/mo. That is doable for me. I never use it, It just rings and I say... its not for me, anyone I know knows mt cel
  • Prior art should be an affirmative defense against patent infringement.
  • After Verizon sued Vonage for patent infringement I thought maybe they infringed on their patent. Once Sprint and AT&T sued it is looking more likely there is patent pooling going on between at least three corporations. This is nothing new as the American Graphophone Company (Columbia) and the Victor Talking Machine Co. had pooled their patents on the lateral cut method of recording in an attempt to monopolize the market over 100 years ago. IF the courts had the mindset of today back in 1922, the Se
  • I am waiting on my patents to come through...

    Patent #1 = Providing a service and charging for that service...

    Patent #2 = Sending in a description of a product or service to have a government organization provide protection to that idea...

    Then I will sue everyone who owns or operates a business, and every individual or business that has ever filed a patent...

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