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USPTO To Review Controversial VoIP Patent 35

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-you-hear-me-now dept.
alphadogg writes "The US Patent and Trademark Office has agreed to review a controversial patent issued in 2001 that is claimed to cover much of the technology underlying VoIP. The patent, held by a small company called C2 Communications Technologies, is one of 10 that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has been trying to strike down for several years through its Patent Busting Project. On Friday, the patent office granted the EFF's request for a re-examination. The digital civil-liberties organization argued that another applicant had submitted basically some of the same technology to the patent office before C2 did. Patent No. 6,243,373, 'Method and apparatus for implementing a computer network/Internet telephone system,' is credited to David L. Turock as inventor and is owned by C2, previously called Acceris Communications Technologies."
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USPTO To Review Controversial VoIP Patent

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  • Patentese (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sakdoctor (1087155) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @01:43PM (#31047020) Homepage

    I love how prefixing anything with "Method and apparatus for implementing..." makes the obvious sound non-obvious, at least to an (un)reasonable person.

    • by 56 (527333)
      Method and apparatus for discerning which patent applicants have actually created something new and which are merely trying to create legal obstacles for their competition.

      Yup, sounds complicated.

    • by jgrahn (181062)

      I love how prefixing anything with "Method and apparatus for implementing..." makes the obvious sound non-obvious, at least to an (un)reasonable person.

      Yeah, and it invokes the image of a dude with a handlebar moustache circa 1890 carrying some complicated machine made of brass and polished hardwood into the patent office.

    • I also love how you're supposed to look to the claims to find out what the patent covers instead of just reading the title and stopping there.

  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Informative)

    by thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) <marc.paradise@NOsPAm.gmail.com> on Saturday February 06, 2010 @02:01PM (#31047120) Homepage Journal
    The way this summary reads, EFF is fighting to bust a patent because another patent owned by C2 already covers a subset of the technology. Then it turns out that the poor phrasing was from the article itself - which further clarifies that the original patent is owned by Lucent and filed in 1994. I guess the advantage to getting the C2 patent tossed is that the Lucent patent will be expiring several years sooner... still, having that clarification in the summary might have helped.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I just read what I wrote -- and I realize that now I understand. This is a diabolical CmdrTaco ploy to get us to RTFA -- you sneaky, sneaky devil you.
      • by sirsnork (530512)

        Aha!

        But you have foiled his sinister plot by writing the summary that should have been at the top of the page so we can all continue to not RTFA

  • Stop the madness (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PPH (736903) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @02:58PM (#31047462)

    When TCP/IP (and other protocols) were "invented" back in the 1970s under ARPA contract, they were envisioned as generic methods for routing digital data over a series of networks. Following that, its been a mad dash to submit patents to do X over TCP/IP (or UDP). Where X is prior art and has been for 20, 30 or 40 years*.

    TCP/IP and its relatives might have been patentable back when Kahn, Cerf and others developed them. But thanks to ARPA, they are in the public domain. Since the general case is addressed, moving generic digital data, is in the public domain, then why are specific subsets of this technology patentable?

    *Voice over packet switched networks is old news. A company I worked for over 30 years ago had just such a PBX phone system. They routed phone calls along with other data over their own microwave system, leased telco lines and various other media in what looked very much like an Intranet. It just wasn't described by RFCs.

    • by Tablizer (95088) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @03:07PM (#31047526) Journal

      // how to make ordinary processes into patents
        h = openFile("ordinary_behavior.txt");
        while (w = readNextWord(h)) {
          if (random(0.0,1.0) > 0.96) {
            w = w + " using a computer ";
          }
          print(w);
        }

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 56 (527333)
      This is not meant as a flame - I'm just unclear about what you're saying.

      TCP/IP and its relatives might have been patentable back when Kahn, Cerf and others developed them. But thanks to ARPA, they are in the public domain. Since the general case is addressed, moving generic digital data, is in the public domain, then why are specific subsets of this technology patentable?

      As I understand it, this line of reasoning could be used to argue that, since the alphabet is public domain, all other uses of that alphabet should also be public domain. If that's what you mean, then I disagree.

      Am I misunderstanding your argument?

      • by HiThere (15173)

        Sort of. It would actually be:
        If expressing this kind of thing was already common, then expressing it using an alphabet wouldn't be patentable. (Except that patents aren't supposed to cover mere expression.)

        Sounds right to me.

        • by 56 (527333)
          I'm not really talking about whether that kind of expression is common or not.

          The way I saw his argument was this:
          1. Sending data over TCP/IP is public domain
          2. All ways of sending data that involve sending it using TCP/IP should therefore also be public domain. This includes VOIP, etc.

          So to carry that over to my example, it would be:
          1. Using the alphabet to communicate data is public domain
          2. All ways of sending data that use the alphabet should also therefore be public domain. This includes books,

          • by ctishman (545856)
            So the alphabet is public domain. Is a language, or more topically appropriate, is specific technical terminology spelled out with those letters patentable? Like, could I patent the word Torx, or is there a need for something more akin to a trademark for specific (and innovative) ways of sending data over public domain protocols such as TCP/IP and UDP?
          • by Patch86 (1465427)

            I think, to torture this metaphor, it'd be like saying:
            We have poetry in a given form
            We have invented a new (public domain) written language
            Can I patent poetry in the new written language?

            Or to put it back into context:
            We have telephone voice communication already in use over certain data transfer methods
            We have invented a new (public domain) data transfer method
            Can I patent voice communication over the new data protocol?

            The implied answer to both should be "no". All "new" invention happens at steps 1 &

          • by tuxgeek (872962)

            You may just be over analizing the whole thing
            TCP/IP - prior art - alphabet soup - whatever ...

            This all starts with a lawyer, guns, money, and an idea that is obviously a twist on technology in public domain or owned by someone else
            The lawyer creates a patent claim that is nothing but piles of select-but-random works obfuscated into a pile of mind numbing drivel presented in a way to make the USPTO reviewer feel stupid and bewildered, which is evidently easy to do. Intimidated by confusion the USPTO revi

          • by hairyfeet (841228)
            I think a better analogy would be this: They saw the need to move all kinds of items from point A to point B, so they build a road. Then someone comes along behind them and says "I patent moving food...on this road!" and another says "I patent moving people....on this road!" and so on and so forth. Since the original point of building the road in the first place was to move all different kinds of items from point a to point b, all they are doing is hampering the very moving of items the road was built for i
          • by AJWM (19027)

            2. All ways of sending data that use the alphabet should also therefore be public domain. This includes books, etc.

            Absolutely correct -- and I make (some) money as a writer.

            What you're missing is that with books, etc, it's the content that's protectable, not the means of conveyance. You can't patent "a method and apparatus for conveying information via alphabetic writing in a book". At least, I bloody well hope not. (Actually if some sort of encoding technique like steganography was used, you might.) Yo

      • Re:Stop the madness (Score:5, Interesting)

        by sjames (1099) on Saturday February 06, 2010 @03:47PM (#31047812) Homepage

        More along the lines that if we already have a patent free technology to move data over a network and another to turn voice into data, then combining the two is far from non-obvious. Arguably, combining the two is exactly what they were intended for from the beginning. It's especially true for VoIP where in the '70s voice packets were being carried by frame relay.

        Sort-of car analogy. Mail is delivered using gasoline powered vehicles. Doing exactly the same thing using a propane powered vehicle is certainly not patent worthy. If vehicles in general are being converted to propane, even less so.

        So, the typewriter was an invention. Using the typewriter for personal (rather than business) correspondence was not.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by 56 (527333)
          Ahh ok so it's an issue of it being a linear development of an existing invention, rather than a new invention in and of itself. That makes sense!

          I was thinking that he was saying that, because the parent invention is public domain, all subsequent inventions based on it must therefore also be public domain - which sounded ridiculous.

          I'm not sure if I agree with him about VOIP, but I can see the logic of the argument.

          Thanks!

          • Ahh ok so it's an issue of it being a linear development of an existing invention, rather than a new invention in and of itself.

            No, it's not even a linear development of an existing invention -- it's the SAME invention, just done over TCP/IP now instead of the pre-ARPA network he described. Here's the part you must have missed:

            "A company I worked for over 30 years ago had just such a PBX phone system. They routed phone calls along with other data over their own microwave system, leased telco lines and various other media in what looked very much like an Intranet."

            This describes prior art in voice data being sent over a network of mi

            • by mishehu (712452)

              This is another case that shows that reality of the bureaucracy inverts the stated ideals: these judgements within the USPTO are completely subjective, based on lack of effort toward finding prior art, and most often completely wrong in favor of validating patents for old and obvious "ideas." They are far more interested in handing out synthetic monopolies than protecting the public [domain] interest.

              Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.

              • by sjames (1099)

                In the case of the USPTO, it seems to be mostly laziness, under-qualified examiners, and lack of common sense. Of course, a sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice (with apologies to Clarke).

      • by TheDauthi (219285)
        I think your example is flawed. I'm not sure if it's flamebait as modded above, but let me take a stab at it.

        I believe that a better way of putting the parent's arguments would be - moving data over TCP is public domain. I believe we can reason from something being in public domain that it is no longer obvious. Because moving data is no longer "not-obvious", moving a specific type of data is no longer "not-obvious". Things that are obvious are not patentable. Thus, moving a specific type of data is
        • not now, anyway.

          Voice has been encoded and transmitted as data ever since the PSTN went digital. The G.711 voice encoding standard was released in 1972, so the concept of data encoding voice has been commonly known for many decades. The conversion of data into voice/text/braille is not patentable...that's been done for decades.

          Perhaps you are simply using voice encoding as an example of processes that MIGHT be patentable, if they are not already known to one skilled in the art. But voice encoding itself

          • by TheDauthi (219285)
            Yeah, I was building a theoretical scenario for the response above.

            My other example, about transmitting gravity or a stab to the face was explicitly about if they were -not- converted to data and somehow transmitted. It's not possible, but if it were, it would be a new and novel use for the internet (transmitting something other than data), and patentable.

            The latter part was trying to logically stretch his already-strained metaphor about alphabet as a transmission carrier for data.
            • by gstovall (22014)

              Yep; that would be interesting to be able to transmit something other than data. Of course, it's already amazing what we're able to transmit just using data -- smells, surgery, sex (latter two using haptic devices). There are even 3D replicators that work over the internet.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by deblau (68023)
      The Supreme Court fairly well nixed "Internet patents" with its (unanimous) decision in KSR [wikipedia.org]. Specifically:

      The subject matter of the patent before the Court [in one case] was a device combining two pre-existing elements: a radiant-heat burner and a paving machine. The device, the Court concluded, did not create some new synergy: The radiant-heat burner functioned just as a burner was expected to function; and the paving machine did the same. The two in combination did no more than they would in separate, se

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The FA is poorly written. There might be a Lucent patent c.1994, but even that is isn't enforceable. There's prior art all over the place. Google for the Wired article about Netheads vs. Bellheads (1996). Do you think VoIP was invented two years before that article?

    I just invented Voice Over IPV6. You heard it here first.

  •     I've only just started documenting this on swpat.org. It's a publicly editable wiki, help very welcome :

  • Interesting change of mind there..

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