Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

USPTO To Review Controversial VoIP Patent

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the can-you-hear-me-now dept.

Communications 35

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."

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Patentese (3, Insightful)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047020)

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

Re:Patentese (1)

56 (527333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047072)

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.

Re:Patentese (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047124)

Apparently it is, as the patent office doesn't do it, and lets the submitter do it.

Re:Patentese (1)

56 (527333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047226)

Someone should patent it, just in case.

Re:Patentese (1)

jgrahn (181062) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047536)

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.

Re:Patentese (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047864)

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.

So all these providers can be sued? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31047096)

Here is a list of providers at risk thanks to the great new search engine Moogle [bing.com]

Wait, what? (4, Informative)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047120)

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:Wait, what? (2, Insightful)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047128)

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.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

sirsnork (530512) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047428)

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 (5, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Stop the madness (4, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047526)

// 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:Stop the madness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31047542)

submit the company name and relevant facts to the EFF.
your testimony will be important.
 

I'll second that (2, Informative)

gstovall (22014) | more than 4 years ago | (#31049550)

Absolutely agree with your suggestion.

The company I worked for, in the early 1990s, used Nortel Passport routers between our corporate sites. Both data and voice serving 100,000 employees passed over the connections between the routers. And we didn't have to do anything so primitive as dialing an access number to get to this intranet based system; it was tied into our PBXes, so that numbers for employees at any of our scores of locations would be routed through our intranet, and external numbers would be routed to the PSTN.

By 1994, we were already building and using applications where a click on a link on a web page would automatically connect you to an agent at a customer call center, whether by a phone call or a VoIP connection to your PC.

Re:Stop the madness (2, Interesting)

56 (527333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047600)

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?

Re:Stop the madness (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047684)

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.

Re:Stop the madness (1)

56 (527333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047778)

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, etc.

To me, the second case seems wrong - and if it follows from the first case, then I vociferously disagree. But I'm thinking that maybe my example is flawed.

Re:Stop the madness (1)

ctishman (545856) | more than 4 years ago | (#31048126)

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?

Re:Stop the madness (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 4 years ago | (#31048206)

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 & 2; step 3 is simply combining two already patented/public domain inventions in a new, fairly obvious way.

Re:Stop the madness (1)

tuxgeek (872962) | more than 4 years ago | (#31048250)

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 reviewer stamps the patent as approved .. "Now give me the money, and go away"

Millions of simoleons have changed hands, and at the end of the day we still have a USPTO the is nothing but a clusterfuck of incompetence, chaos and confusion. The lawyers are happy as well as the patent trolls.

Re:Stop the madness (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 4 years ago | (#31048618)

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 in the first place, by setting up private toll booths every other block.

Re:Stop the madness (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 4 years ago | (#31049560)

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.) You can copyright particular arrangements of that alphabetic writing.

  Sending data via TCP/IP should not be patentable, no matter what that data is. If said patent describes a hitherto uninvented way of converting voice to data, or interfacing data to a phone system, then fine.

Re:Stop the madness (4, Interesting)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047812)

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:Stop the madness (2, Insightful)

56 (527333) | more than 4 years ago | (#31047858)

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!

Re:Stop the madness (1)

TakeyMcTaker (963277) | more than 4 years ago | (#31050534)

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 mitigated circuits. It doesn't matter whether the network is circuit switched, packet switched, or delivered on a bicycle. Voice data over (choose-any-delivery) has been done, it's obvious, it's the opposite of novel, and it has never deserved patent monopoly status.

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

The USPTO is supposed to work by non-subjective evidence of things like obviousness to those "skilled in the art", novelty, and exhaustive prior-art searches. It shouldn't matter who anyone agrees with.

      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.

Re:Stop the madness (1)

mishehu (712452) | more than 4 years ago | (#31050934)

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.

Re:Stop the madness (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#31055344)

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).

Re:Stop the madness (1)

TheDauthi (219285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31048542)

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 patentable.

This does not prevent any of the other parts of the process from being patentable. For example: under his suggestion, transmitting VOIP data across the internet is not patentable. But encoding the voice into data still is. And presenting the data on the other side of the connection (as voice, or text, braille, etc) is still patentable.

To extend this: if you created a method by which to encode and transmit a person across TCP/IP as data, it's not patentable. But the process of encoding the person -into- data is. And the process of decoding the person back into a person (or saving to your desktop or whatever) is still patentable. Furthermore, if you invented a way to transmit something other than data across the internet (say, a stab in the face, or gravity), that would still be patentable. So long as it's not data.

It's difficult to put this into your example, but to really stretch your analogy I believe the best way of putting it would be that since using an alphabet to communicate is public domain, languages (different systems that use alphabets to communicate) are not patentable. Books, however, are a display medium, and would still be patentable.

Encoding voice is not patentable (1)

gstovall (22014) | more than 4 years ago | (#31049642)

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 is no longer patentable.

Since ONLY data can be transmitted across the internet, and you had already said that transmitting data across the internet is not patentable, then transmitting a stab in the face, or gravity, across the internet could not be patentable, since it would HAVE to be converted to data to be transmitted across the internet.

Book are not patentable. The idea of a book came into common usage centuries ago. However, the content of books can be copyrighted. Is this perhaps what you mean? It's the ordering of the symbols in the book, and the structure of any associated graphics, that are copyrighted.

Re:Encoding voice is not patentable (1)

TheDauthi (219285) | more than 4 years ago | (#31050950)

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.

Re:Encoding voice is not patentable (1)

gstovall (22014) | more than 4 years ago | (#31054874)

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:Stop the madness (2, Insightful)

deblau (68023) | more than 4 years ago | (#31053564)

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, sequential operation. In those circumstances, "while the combination of old elements performed a useful function, it added nothing to the nature and quality of the radiant-heat burner already patented," and the patent failed...

Finally, in [a later case], the Court derived from the precedents the conclusion that when a patent "simply arranges old elements with each performing the same function it had been known to perform" and yields no more than one would expect from such an arrangement, the combination is obvious.

If the combination of some technology with the Internet yields more than the sum of the parts, or if new tech solves a known, fundamental problem with the Internet, then perhaps you have non-obvious subject matter. But that's not true in the vast majority of software and/or Internet patent applications these days.

Prior Art for VoIP is much earlier than 1995 (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31047796)

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.

documenting it on http://en.swpat.org (1)

H4x0r Jim Duggan (757476) | more than 4 years ago | (#31049352)

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

patent (1)

suzieque (1740694) | more than 4 years ago | (#31066510)

Interesting change of mind there..
Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?