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Vonage Admits They Have No Workaround

Zonk posted about 7 years ago | from the i-hear-violins dept.

Communications 345

drachenfyre writes "It looks like Vonage has no workaround for their recent patent infringements. This means if a permanent stay isn't granted it is likely that it will be the end of the line for Vonage. What will happen if millions of phone customers suddenly lose their service? Their own filing to the court stated 'While Vonage has studied methods for designing around the patents, removal of the allegedly infringing technology, if even feasible, could take many months to fully study and implement.'"

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345 comments

stalemate (5, Insightful)

yada21 (1042762) | about 7 years ago | (#18767977)

Welcome to the patent quagmire. The whole progress of industry will become a stalemate if this goes on.

End the patent nonesense now!

Re:stalemate (5, Insightful)

badasscat (563442) | about 7 years ago | (#18768395)

End the patent nonesense now!

There really needs to be a distinction made in this discussion between frivolous patents, patent trolls and legitimate patents.

I don't think Verizon is a patent troll, although their patent could still be frivolous and honestly, I don't know whether this is.

But the whole point of patents is to encourage innovation, by providing protection for unique ideas. Why would anybody bother coming up with new ideas if anybody else could just copy them the next day? (That's especially true for startups, which don't have the money to compete head to head with larger, more established companies.)

If this is a legitimate patent, then Verizon was right to enforce it, and it will only help innovation in the long run, by continuing the legal tradition of protecting new ideas. And the court decisions suggest that it was a legitimate patent.

Re:stalemate (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768511)

Verizon is a patent troll, at least in this case. They waited far too long, in my opinion, to file suit against Vonage. You should not be able to selectively enforce your patent and only target those you feel confident or have financial motivation to target. The patents are very broad, Vonage is certainly not the only infringer. Why hasn't Verizon filed suit against others?

Re:stalemate (4, Insightful)

ciscoguy01 (635963) | about 7 years ago | (#18768917)

Congress needs to address the problem with broad software patents once and for all.

Most of these software patents the clueless patent examiner lawyers at USPTO are granting are obvious and stupid.
Things that have *always* been done that way by *lots* of people are now patented property, since the patent examiners hardly have the experience and knowledge to tell the difference between the obvious and something actually unique.

Software patents should be either eliminated completely, or should be strictly limited, like a 1 year term and very easy to bring forward information (prior art) to cancel them.

This is absolutely ridiculous. Verizon basically patented an extension of DNS. Mapping addresses to phone numbers? Puleeze. We did that in a database in 1977.

I should have patented it then. Heh.

Re:stalemate (3, Insightful)

walt-sjc (145127) | about 7 years ago | (#18768573)

Of COURSE they are a patent troll - the patents are obvious to anyone in the field. The patent office is granting anything that is an old idea applied to the internet and calling it new. Until they stop this, the madness will continue.

Verizon is simply using this technology to maintain their defacto monopoly. This is not about innovation - it's about crushing a competitor or competing technology.

Vonage is not alone. If this case holds, it will effectively destroy VoIP.

Re:stalemate (5, Insightful)

eln (21727) | about 7 years ago | (#18768599)

Maybe Verizon's patent is a good one, but it's still pretty sleazy the way they did this. They basically let Vonage exist for years, let Vonage spend all the money marketing the VoIP concept to the masses, let Vonage spend all the time and money proving the concept that VoIP could make money and could move beyond the geek space. Vonage did all of that, and now that Joe Blow is comfortable with the concept, and now that Vonage has millions of established customers, Verizon can swoop in, kill Vonage, and get all of those customers without having to spend all the time and money building all of that up themselves.

So, in this case, even if Verizon's patent is valid, they behaved like a patent troll would: Let someone else do all the hard work building up customers and developing your patent into a marketable product, wait until they have lots of customers and are making lots of money, THEN go in and nail them.

If Verizon was only interested in protecting their IP, they would have gone after Vonage a whole lot sooner.

Re:stalemate (4, Insightful)

davmoo (63521) | about 7 years ago | (#18768769)

While Vonage was doing all that work, they should have performed one more task. They should have had someone do a patent check.

Its not totally Verizon's fault.

Re:stalemate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768775)

It is possible that Verizon did make a good-faith effort to notify Vonage beforehand though. I don't really know for sure, but I do know that the courts move SLOWLY, and that Verizon would rather take on a smaller company than a bigger one.

Re:stalemate (2, Insightful)

AVee (557523) | about 7 years ago | (#18768669)

I'm not entirely into the details, but according to this [ipurbia.com] article the patents include the briliant idea to connect a voip network with the pots network. Anyone trying to patent something that obvious is a patent troll to me.

And to be honest, the rest of these patents really look like solutions anyone could come up with given the same problem. And perhaps that is the biggest problem with patents these days, most of them are just describing logical obvious solutions. Generally it's just an old solution applied to a somewhat new problem.

Yellow Submarine (5, Interesting)

brunes69 (86786) | about 7 years ago | (#18768799)

If this is a legitimate patent, then Verizon was right to enforce it, and it will only help innovation in the long run, by continuing the legal tradition of protecting new ideas. And the court decisions suggest that it was a legitimate patent.

Wrong. Even assuming Verizon has patented a novel idea (which is highly in question), they DID NOTHING with that patent except sit on it, thus transforming it into a submarine patent, which is only used to extract peanalties from ANOTHER COMPANY that ACTUALLY HAD THE BALLS to pursue the idea.

This is the whole problem with the patent situation. While patents are a good idea on paper, they are not in practice. This is because, basically, if you are granted a patent your best busines case IS TO NOT DEVELOP IT. It is far less risky and more cost-effeftive, to just sit on it for a few years until some unlocky company unknowingly creates a successful business around it - then sue the pants off them.

Patents do not encourage innovation at all - all they do is stifle it. Patent reform is desperatly needed. Companies should not be allowed to sit on a patent. The way things SHOULD procced is this:

Company / person has idea. File patent application.

Patent is reviewed and approved. Patent enters implementation phase, which is some fixed period of time during which the idea is allowed to be brought to market by the company / person. Maybe 1 year?

Implementation phase complete. Patent office then reviews patent AND evidence of implementation. If the company / person HAS NOT brought patent to market, then the patent is REJECTED and any and all ideas are now public domain. If they HAVE, then the patent is granted as par. current patent term length, whatever that is (I think it's 10 years?).

Re:stalemate (1)

spun (1352) | about 7 years ago | (#18768819)

Why would anybody bother coming up with new ideas if anybody else could just copy them the next day?

Money isn't everything. There's also fame, a sense of moral duty, getting a desirable mate, just for fun, to be able to brag, and many other motivations. I am sick and tired of the idea that profit is the only thing that motivates human beings. Open source would not work if that were the case.

Re:stalemate (1)

Kabuthunk (972557) | about 7 years ago | (#18769107)

Money isn't everything. There's also fame, a sense of moral duty, getting a desirable mate, just for fun, to be able to brag, and many other motivations. I am sick and tired of the idea that profit is the only thing that motivates human beings. Open source would not work if that were the case.

Tell that to a big company. All they'll see is a dump-truck full of money being driven up to their door.

Re:stalemate (3, Insightful)

Znork (31774) | about 7 years ago | (#18768849)

"There really needs to be a distinction made"

No.

"But the whole point of patents is to encourage innovation"

Actually, the whole point of patents was to indirectly tax the population by handing out monopolies to friends of the crown. The later rationalizations have proven of dubious veracity and value.

"Why would anybody bother coming up with new ideas if anybody else could just copy them the next day?"

Why would anyone make a hammer if anybody else could just copy it the next day? Why would anyone invent a wheel? Why would anyone build better houses? Why would anyone bother writing code if anyone could copy it the next day? Yet we find both hammers and immense amounts of free software.

Innovation happens regardless of protection; it's done to scratch an itch, to solve a problem, to do things better than the competition. Competition and communication is what drives it, monopolies and legal issues merely slow it down.

The only real mitigation for the damage patents do to the economy is disclosure, and the only situation in which the disclosure aspect has more value than the damage cause is when nobody would have managed to reverse-engineer and distribute the knowledge in the time the patent takes to lapse. Doubt those situations even exist anymore.

If you want to 'encourage innovation', then fine, do it within ordinary government budget procedures. _PAY_ the inventors for their patents as they get used. Demand performance measurements; show some _proof_ that the resources are used appropriately. Quit handing out monpolies with their dubious value and economically damaging aspects, as well as their negative effects on development. Hand out a check instead. The patent system costs huge amounts and makes the economy less competetive as it is (in everything from higher costs of products to high medical costs); switching it over to a tax/benefits scheme costs nothing to the economy as a whole and merely has the benefit of making someone actually accountable for the true costs of the system.

Re:stalemate (1)

TigerNut (718742) | about 7 years ago | (#18768903)

But the whole point of patents is to encourage innovation, by providing protection for unique ideas. Why would anybody bother coming up with new ideas if anybody else could just copy them the next day? (That's especially true for startups, which don't have the money to compete head to head with larger, more established companies.)

The point of patents is to provide protection for unique ideas - but the intent was to provide that protection to the innovators who were trying to build a business around that unique idea. Coming up with an idea and then sitting on it while others build up the business case is trolling. Part of the "trolling" test is also, to what lengths did the inventor go to make their patent obscure to the intended field of application? I don't know if that applies in this case, but there are a lot of patents out there that are written such that only the most careful search using the most oblique terms will find them.

Re:stalemate (1)

michrech (468134) | about 7 years ago | (#18768949)


But the whole point of patents is to encourage innovation, by providing protection for unique ideas. Why would anybody bother coming up with new ideas if anybody else could just copy them the next day? (That's especially true for startups, which don't have the money to compete head to head with larger, more established companies.)


This is what I hate about the entire argument.

Without patents, people would come up with new ideas to "One up" the guys that copied them.

Would this help the original person? Depends on how often he comes up with new ideas and how long it takes the copy-cats to do their thing. So long as the original inventor doesn't price himself out of the market, more people would buy his products because they see him as the place to go "for the future". Yes, people will buy from copy-cats (people like my father, who are quite cheap, and don't mind being a generation (or three) behind).

Is this situation perfect? I'm sure it's not, but it's *got* to be better than what we have now.

Just imagine what types of services we might have now if we didn't have this patent bull-shit to deal with.

Re:stalemate (1)

michrech (468134) | about 7 years ago | (#18769043)

Wish there was a way to edit your comments.. Oh-well..

One thing I didn't add is that, in addition to the copy-cats, you'll also have those who will see an invention, use it as a base, improve it in some way(s), then release a new product.

I could be wrong, but as I understand things as they currently stand, this is not possible (see Vonage, who took (knowingly or not) a method of connecting internet originated calls to the POTS network, adding in the ability to take the phone with you wherever you go, just as if you had never left. I don't have their service, but I'm sure they've added more to the "phone" service than just what I've mentioned)..

Frankly, I don't see how the other Vonage-like services exist without *also* "stealing" Verizon's patent (unless they licensed it/them).

Re:stalemate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18769005)

90% of patents in the US are "blocking patents" - they are obtained and then left just as such for years without any new development made by the patent holder on that line of thinking. They are used for blocking research along that line of thinking by rival firms rather than to gain a competitive advantage period of a few years for the developing firm. It is thus an open question whether patents help innovation. The world had to wait for the radio for at least 50 years before the US Navy got all the warring patent holders to get together to get the first radio set working.

Re:stalemate (1)

jdray (645332) | about 7 years ago | (#18768675)

Would you suggest ending patents all together? The article doesn't have a lot of details about what patents are being violated, but, presuming that the patent is for clearly different technology (unlike "one click" or somesuch), the patent holder should have the right to protect that. OTOH, the patent should be for the method, not the idea to do it. Vonnage should be able to come up with a different method for achieving the same goal (like launching an application by clicking on an associated graphical representation; it's all in the registration of the "icon" with the OS and how the application gets instanciated, not that the user points the mouse at a picture).

They should be able to pull it out in court. Sounds like VG stock is a good buy right now.

Re:stalemate (1)

walt-sjc (145127) | about 7 years ago | (#18768993)

I would scrap all "business process" and "software" patents. Let's get back to physical stuff that is truly innovative. The problem is that it is not feasible for the patent office to identify things that are "obvious to someone trained in the field" or simply rehashed old ideas applied to a new situation. They don't have the experts and don't have the manpower.

Re:stalemate (1)

jdray (645332) | about 7 years ago | (#18769193)

Agreed. I think the USPTO should have a forum here on Slashdot to collect opinions on patents being applied for. Patent examiners should read the forum filtered at 4 to obviate all the goatse, GNAA and "frist psot" posts, focusing on things that have been modded up by at least two people (making a three-vote for the comment being noteworthy on some level). I realize that this would require some level of maturity and commitment to the process on the part of Slashdot users, something that may be unattainable, but it seems like it would be worth a shot. At the very least, they could "try" patents that have passed their otherwise rigorous patent examination process for a sanity check before they're released into the wild.

Re:stalemate (1)

71thumper (107491) | about 7 years ago | (#18768865)

There's been no sign that these patents are so sweeping that Verizon has patented VOIP-to-POTS. If they had they'd be going after Skype which has much deeper pockets.

I think Vonage is simply tossing out a smokescreen here to try and get a ruling that forces a license fee they can live with.

I totally agree!! (1)

bjinatj (946918) | about 7 years ago | (#18769161)

Creativity is being crushed just because people are crying "I thought of it first!". There is always a better way to do something, unfortunately you have to hire lawyers just to make sure you don't step on anyones toes. Take a look at the ridiculuos prices I found in a 5 minute google search.. http://www.ipwatchdog.com/patent_cost.html [ipwatchdog.com]

Only one appropriate response... (4, Funny)

gatorflux (759239) | about 7 years ago | (#18767981)

Woohoo woo hoo hoo!

Re:Only one appropriate response... (-1, Troll)

emor8t (1033068) | about 7 years ago | (#18768087)

Appropriate responses would seem to be quantified in their implied intelligence. Therefore, I can only defer that you either made an appropriate response for a 3rd grader or you're a moron.

Re:Only one appropriate response... (2, Informative)

Aladrin (926209) | about 7 years ago | (#18768277)

It always ruins a joke to explain it. -sigh-

It's a quote from their own commercials. It's sung in the background to a silly tune while people do amaaaazingly stupid things.

It's more than appropriate, it might even be prophetic.

Re:Only one appropriate response... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768317)

Those commercials really have ruined that song for me. :-(

Re:Only one appropriate response... (1)

jellomizer (103300) | about 7 years ago | (#18768343)

I have been happy with my Vonage service. I would hate to see it go. I am defantly not going back to Verizon Ill probably use the Cable Phone service.

Re:Only one appropriate response... (1)

Jim_Maryland (718224) | about 7 years ago | (#18768699)

I haven't been following this very closely until a bit more recently. As a SunRocket (SunRocket [sunrocket.com])VoIP customer, I'm beginning to worry a bit too. I was going to recommend moving to their offering but it seems that patent suits are plaguing the VoIP market lately.

Vonage Fraught With Troubles Amid Patent Case Loss [newtelephony.com]

On March 14, Web Telephony LLC filed a patent infringement suit against Verizon, AT&T, EarthLink Inc., SunRocket Corp. and Vonage. Web Telephony, based in Illinois, holds and licenses patents governing Web control of telephony services. The company claims the defendants are infringing on two of its patents, issued in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

Re:Only one appropriate response... (1)

grunherz (447840) | about 7 years ago | (#18769211)

I happily switched from a Verizon land line to Vonage back when it was first a feasible option.

I was so happy to ditch Verizon, a company that has, in its many forms, sapped extraordinary amounts of money from me for years in all forms of fees and extraordinary charges from charging me $49 to switch from messenger service to standard service to hundreds of dollars for a measly yellow pages ad, which they never cancelled even when I requested it.

Their FiOS could become the greatest thing since the wheel, their cellular phone coverage could blanket the globe; they've charged me outrageous prices for mediocre service for most of my adult life. They're not getting another penny from me. Ever.

I'm not the only one who feels this way and they know it. Vonage represents a nice alternative to their bloated service that thousands of people have flocked to. That's why they're trying to kill it.

Verizon can kill Vonage. I'll just go someplace else.

I'll go back to Verizon on the day Jessica Alba comes to my house with black silk teddy on bearing a fruit basket and massage oil.

Appropriate parody: (1)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | about 7 years ago | (#18768025)

People do stupid things.

Like infringing on patents for phone service.

so say goodbye to vonage.

The Dying phone company.

Unlimited lawsuits in the US and Canada.

24.99 Million/month (in lawsuits and fees)

Vonage

Visit vonage.com/screwed or 1-800-2GET-OUT

(Parody of This Commercial [vonage-forum.com])

It's worse than that (4, Interesting)

zappepcs (820751) | about 7 years ago | (#18768097)

Who will Verizon go after next? Skypeout?

Now millions of people will have to turn to the existing vampiric phone services ... Verizon sucks and I won't be using their services.

I've been very happy with Vonage, does anyone know a good alternative?

Re:It's worse than that (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | about 7 years ago | (#18768197)

virgin mobile is a good alternative.

it's prepay, but works very dependably and has a flat rate cross country.

considering i dont use the phone often, i can go for 2-3 months on 20 bucks.

Re:It's worse than that (1)

BobPaul (710574) | about 7 years ago | (#18768549)

$15/mo for 500min then $0.04/min or $25/mo for unlimited vs $0.18/min or $10/mo+$0.10/min or $30/mo for what? 200min?

Yeah, I'd say they're comparable.... VM is a fine cellphone, but it is no replacement for Vonage.

Re:It's worse than that (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768231)

There is SunRocket [sunrocket.com].

Don't get SR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768933)

I had SunRocket for about a year. Really lousy voice quality. I would call their India call centers who told me (with a bad imitation of an American accent) they would fix the problem this time. It never got fixed. Since I hardly use my phone I decided to put up with it for awhile. My year with SR just ran out and I signed up with ViaTalk. Huge improvement in sound quality. And they will let you use your own VOIP adapter (I have a Linksys PAP2T-NA) instead of that crappy Gizmo SR saddles you with.

Re:It's worse than that (3, Informative)

Voidwalker (876958) | about 7 years ago | (#18768311)

good alternative

www.lingo.com

cheaper than vonage and more coverage (not that i ever have the desire to call europe, canada and mexico often or even the west coast come to think of it ...) though i wonder now that vonage is under the gun, if lingo will be next, i haven't found any info yet on what the patent covers

Re:It's worse than that (2, Informative)

BobPaul (710574) | about 7 years ago | (#18768411)

I like Vitelity.net. Depending on the Vonage adapter you currently have, you may be able to unlock it so you can use it with another provider. If you search the bargainshare.com forums, you can find instructions for most, if not all of them.

But who's to know if Vitelity isn't also infringing. Does anyone know what the patents actually are? As I understand it, they were related to call termination--ie connecting a VoIP call to a POTS user. That could be a problem.

This is excellent (5, Insightful)

ebcdic (39948) | about 7 years ago | (#18768109)

Millions of people will be inconvenienced by patent enforcement.

Re:This is excellent (1)

HolyCrapSCOsux (700114) | about 7 years ago | (#18768221)

I am one of those people.
However, most people will not see it as a patent issue, and I will not be surprised if a customer tries to sue Vonage for the inconvenience. The patent system will be ignored by the public once again, and the status quo will continue.

I'm not looking forward to receiving a Sprint bill though. *shudder*

Re:This is excellent (1)

Timesprout (579035) | about 7 years ago | (#18768363)

Well given the customer churn Vonage has incurred and the fact they have never made a profit, together with a stock price in freefall (which is the real issue here as they simply cant afford to litigate an appeal, never mind pay Verizon the damages awarded against them) I would say they have already inconvienced quite a few people and many will say good riddance to Vonage.

Re:This is excellent (1)

iminplaya (723125) | about 7 years ago | (#18768423)

I agree completely. Here's hoping that enough people react. I'm don't know if anybody will remember any of this by the time election season rolls around. They will have many distractions thrown at them between now and then. Maybe they'll take note in 10 years or so when the mule drawn ox cart makes a comeback on the showroom floor.

Re:This is excellent (1)

Trailer Trash (60756) | about 7 years ago | (#18768555)

Millions of people will be inconvenienced by patent enforcement.

Are you kidding? Look at how greatly the arts and sciences are being promoted by this!

Seriously, though, this might just be the wakeup call that's needed.

More Info? (2, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | about 7 years ago | (#18768113)

What the patent that they are violating, and what does it cover? If it's not something that can be worked around, then what about other VOIP systems.

Re:More Info? (2, Interesting)

Billosaur (927319) | about 7 years ago | (#18768235)

Better yet, why don't they just work out a deal to use the patents? Isn't that the idea of patents, to allow the patent holder to profit from the patent? I know making a deal with Verizon is like selling your soul to the Devil's unsavory second cousin, but if it's the difference between the end of your business and staying afloat...

Re:More Info? (2, Informative)

rekoil (168689) | about 7 years ago | (#18768413)

Because Verizon has no interest in licensing the patent to Vonage - they're seeking an injunction preventing Vonage from using the technology, which mean no competing VoIP. The monetary damages they're seeking are for past infringement, not licensing fees for future use.

One thing to remember is that Verizon, AT&T, etc. really don't see much of a profit from regulated phone service, or even LD service - it's the add-on services (Caller ID, VM, three-way calling, etc.) that they make a mint on. With companies like Vonage around, people expect those services to be bundled in, which is the *real* danger, IMO.

Re:More Info? (1)

alexhs (877055) | about 7 years ago | (#18768429)

why don't they just work out a deal to use the patents?
FTFA, Verizon charges too much, so they can't afford that deal.

  1. Patent the wheel.
  2. License wheel to wheel manufacturers for $699 per unit.
  3. Profit !

Re:More Info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768539)

I don't know the situation re this patent. If it's VOIP there's a good chance it's a software patent. In that case shutting up shop and laying off all your staff is the correct and sensible thing to do. Thanks to software patents, it's not possible to be in the software business or even use software without having undisclosed balance sheet liabilities. The legal contortions that enable software patents are ridiculous, why validate the stupidity?

Re:More Info? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768829)

Because Verizon has a competing product, Voicewing, which does the same thing as Vonage. Verizon has no reason to let Vonage, or any other VoIP communications company, exist. This includes Skype, although I believe Skype-to-Skype calls are not covered by the patent at hand, since that patent concerns interconnecting the VoIP world to the POTS, or Plain Ol' Telephone Service, world.

Re:More Info? (2, Informative)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | about 7 years ago | (#18768477)

This is the best quote I could find. No mention anywhere of the actual patent numbers involved.

The infringed patents cover technology that translates calls between an Internet network and the standard telephone network, call-waiting features and wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, handsets. Vonage was cleared of infringing two patents related to billing systems designed to prevent fraud.

Re:More Info? (1)

compro01 (777531) | about 7 years ago | (#18768637)

What the patent that they are violating, and what does it cover?

IIRC from a previous story on this, the patent covers an IP-to-PSTN (normal phone service) bridge, which is a vital part of any VOIP service that allows you to place calls to normal telephones and not just VOIP phones in the same network.

there is simply no way around this, as that single item is the thing that allows VOIP to work in the intended manner.

this applies to ALL VOIP providers, not just vonage, that allow you to call outside of their network. they would all use the exact same technology and verizon has them all over a barrel.

Re:More Info? (1)

mo (2873) | about 7 years ago | (#18769165)

I believe the problem is that Verizon is going for a preliminary injunction. IE: Vonage has to stop being Vonage while the case plays out. The problem here is that even if Vonage can win the suit with prior art, if they have to shut down their service for three years while the suit goes on, they effectively lose.

Thing is, Vonage probably knows that they could win the suit with prior art, which makes a settlement a nasty pill to swallow.

So what will happen? (5, Insightful)

The Great Pretender (975978) | about 7 years ago | (#18768179)

Disclaimer - I am a Vonage customer

My best guess:

1) Vonage up the service cost to a level that Verizon can compete at and pay a licensing fee. Problem Verizon have them over a barrel and could pretty much demand what they want, forcing the operation costs too high - putting them out of business.

2) Verizon buy out Vonage at a reduced cost. There's a bunch of people subscribed to Vonage. Even if the fees go up and a chunk stay, that's an easy market capture strategy. Infrastructure is in place etc. Verizon would then jack up the service cost.

3) A third party buy out Vonage. Same problem, but now 1) and 2) are combined.

4) Vonage get their stay. The court case goes on for a few years. Vonage's only argument is that 'it will put us out of business'. They go out of business anyway due to legal fees.

There's plenty of more senarios, but in all cases the service bill will go up. So I need to read my subscription agreement and get ready to ditch the service when the bills start to go up. I wonder if there's a class action lawsuit here for deceiving the customer about ownership of the technology. I'm thinking along the lines of something like - you sub-lease office space, but then get kicked out as the primary leaseholders were not paying their rent to the landlord, also they did not have permission to sub-lease to you. So now you have no office and have lost other cash etc. Any lawyers care to comment?

Re:So what will happen? (1)

radtea (464814) | about 7 years ago | (#18768305)

I wonder if there's a class action lawsuit here for deceiving the customer about ownership of the technology.

I'm not a lawyer, but I doubt it. First, consider other cases of Vonage bad behaviour: they have a long history of not telling customers the truth. They gave me false information about number mobility, and then tried to charge me a cancellation fee when it turned out I couldn't keep my old number. Based on the number of Vonage customer "service" horror stories circulating on the 'Net this kind of behaviour is not an anomaly but rather a policy for them.

Second, patents cover what the courts say they cover, and one of the delights about patent law is that you never really know how good--or how broad--a patent is until it has been challenged in court. So it would be hard to claim that Vonage knowingly lied to their customers in this case, because they can honestly claim they did not know until the court ruled.

Vonage--and their customers--took a chance. It looks like they lost. I feel sorry for their customers, because I know that the people they haven't screwed over have been fairly happy with their product, but I don't feel sorry for Vonage in the least, who are the worst company I have ever dealt with.

Re:So what will happen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768407)

There won't be a buyout. It doesn't make sense, none of the vonage customers are stuck with long term contracts and they don't have any terribly substantial assets.


they are very likely circling the toilet right now.


Shareholders should sue. How did this company IPO before anyone noticed or said anything about the patents? Vonage had to know about this stuff and chose to ignore it. Seems to me that the company's directors are responsible for not disclosing that and whoever underwrote the IPO should be responsible for their due diligence.

Re:So what will happen? (1)

Zonk (troll) (1026140) | about 7 years ago | (#18768935)

Shareholders should sue. How did this company IPO before anyone noticed or said anything about the patents? Vonage had to know about this stuff and chose to ignore it.
The patent system is a total mess. It's near impossible to do anything without infringing on patents, and it's very difficult to even find out which patents you're infringing on.

Watch this speech by Richard Stallman: The Dangers of Software Patents [google.com]

All anger must be directed towards the patent office and the patent trolls/abusers (Verizon in this case).

Re:So what will happen? (1)

vertinox (846076) | about 7 years ago | (#18768457)

There's plenty of more senarios, but in all cases the service bill will go up.

Actually, I could foresee military action in Iran in the next year resulting us being involved in a war versus Russia and China resulting in a scenario similar to "Red Dawn" which does not result in your phone bill going up.

Of course seeing that their will be no more phone companies or basic utilities due to the nightly bombing raids makes it a moot point in my scenario.

Re:So what will happen? (1)

durkzilla (1089549) | about 7 years ago | (#18768479)

Verizon already has a competetive option - VoiceWing. I switched from Vonage to VoiceWing to avoid having my home office phone cut off when the DOJ lays the smackdown on Vonage, and to future-proof myself from Verizon systematically suing all the VoIP providers into non-existence. VoiceWing's comparable offering is actually three bucks a month cheaper than Vonage. Unfortunately, the service is not as good - voice quality is ok, but faxes fail, and their website (actually, every Verizon website) is as slow as if I was on a 9600 baud modem. I've heard comments online that Verizon won't buy out Vonage since they don't have coverage in all the areas that Vonage services, but hey, it's VoIP, not POTS....

Re:So what will happen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768979)

So let me see if I have this right. In order to protect yourself from Verizon's patent trolling, you switch to Verizon, thus subsidizing their behavior AND getting poorer service as a result? With customers like you, it surprising companies have any motivation to actually improve their service.

Re:So what will happen? (1)

durkzilla (1089549) | about 7 years ago | (#18769117)

Well, I'm a realist. I can stay with Vonage, buy large chunks of their stock, walk around town with a big orange Vonage box strapped to my chest, but all of those things are going to do very little besides make me poorer and at some point have no phone service. Remember the key point - VoiceWing service is CHEAPER than Vonage. It works fine for voice, which is all I really care about. I receive less than one fax a year, and I have a eFax number for that. Fight the good fight all you want. Verizon will continue to squash smaller companies forever - I saw it in the early DSL days, we're seeing it in VoIP now, and I'm sure we'll see it in broadband, TV, etc. in the future.

Re:So what will happen? (2, Informative)

Jtheletter (686279) | about 7 years ago | (#18768989)

the service is not as good - voice quality is ok, but faxes fail

Without knowing if VoiceWing advertises that it supports fax service I can tell you that the compression algorithms used to send VOIP voice data are lossy in a way that breaks fax data. So unless they explicitly provide support for fax data you shouldn't expect it to work, just a result of the data compression formats that most VOIP uses.

FUCK VERIZON (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18769029)

I've had Vonage for about 2 years now and love it. I've never had any problems with my service and have saved a huge amount of money. It's absurd that Verizon can patent something so basic as translating calls between the internet and a regular phone system, it sounds pretty fucking obvious to me. If Verizon does manage to kill off Vonage I am sure they will start going after the other VOIP providers until they have monopolized the market. I will never give Verizon another penny of my money.

Patents, prior art, court? (3, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 7 years ago | (#18768185)

I've seen various assertions that there is quite good prior art against at least some of the patents in question. Have they yet gone down that road?

Verizon (2, Funny)

EveryNickIsTaken (1054794) | about 7 years ago | (#18768243)

And I thought these guys were pricks when I provisioned ADSL/SDSL/IDSL circuits for a regional ISP back in the late 90's. I could've sworn they had an "excuse" rolodex for reasons that a line installation would get delayed again.

Regardless, farewell Vonage. It was nice knowing thee.

Use bleeding edge - get cut (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about 7 years ago | (#18768297)

I realise theres some deep seated hatred for the old telcos in the USA (something which I don't really understand not being american) but if people want to give these old telcos the finger and go with a relatively immature technology such as a VOIP phone install then unfortunately these things will happen , whether it be technological or legal issues. I'm afraid my sympathy is limited. These people wanted something cheap or free and they might get burnt. Well tough.

Re:Use bleeding edge - get cut (1)

nine-times (778537) | about 7 years ago | (#18768517)

Yes, I agree. How dare people try to move away from entrenched abusive monopolistic companies! I hope some lives get ruined.

Re:Use bleeding edge - get cut (1)

Aladrin (926209) | about 7 years ago | (#18768523)

US-based telcos have a very, very long history of trying to squeeze their customers as hard as possible. The government frequently has to step in to and kick them until they let go. Even if a perfectly sane, nice, customer-oriented telco were to start up today, it would be treated with the same disrespect all the others have earned.

Telcos aren't alone in this, though... It's pretty much any utility.

Verizon is rubbing its hands together with glee. (1)

rehtonAesoohC (954490) | about 7 years ago | (#18768299)

I can almost guarantee that Verizon will wait until Vonage hits a record low in their shares and then offer to buy. This would solve Vonage's customer problems, and the patent issue would naturally go away.

sucks. (1)

Adult film producer (866485) | about 7 years ago | (#18768307)

I've been using vonage for 9 months now, service has been pretty good... not good enough to run a business on (like the commercials suggest.) But overall I've been happy with the $20/month deal. Previously I was paying $60-$75/month with Bell Canada, not even a year and I've saved a lot of money. But it has me wondering.. this is all about a patent in the united states, it probably doesn't mean much for the vonage in Canada except that the technology that makes the vonage system work is so intertwined between the two countries that I'll be paying $50/month pretty soon, when whichever competitor gobbles up vonage for the lowest bid.

Clarification? (0)

MysticOne (142751) | about 7 years ago | (#18768321)

Perhaps somebody can clarify something for me. Obviously I understand how sell a product (i.e., a computer, a car, software, etc.) that contains somebody's patented technology without their permission, you would be liable of infringing their patents. But until this Vonage situation, I was under the impression that this didn't apply to services. Though, now that I think about it, the whole Amazon one-click fiasco is probably a similar problem. But if Verizon has patented some sort of interconnection device/method between VoIP and the PSTN, this means that nobody can perform such an action without a license from Verizon, regardless of whether or not they sell the hardware to accomplish it?

The whole thing just seems incredibly ridiculous. Obviously that's part of the problem and why we need patent reform, but it's really amazed me that a company can patent something and somehow prevent somebody else from making use of similar technology/methods when they don't in fact sell the technology/methods to others. It'd be one thing if Verizon sold the hardware or software that accomplished this feat, but to merely USE it would seem to me to not violate a patent. I know I'm mistaken, but I'd appreciate a good explanation of how this can be.

Re:Clarification? (1)

nine-times (778537) | about 7 years ago | (#18768475)

Oh, heavens no. What you're talking about sounds like a sensible sort of patent system. What we have here is a ridiculous system where anyone can patent anything and sue anyone. And in case you're wondering how these lawsuits proceed, our legal system is relatively simple: whoever has more money to bankroll a legal team wins.

Re:Clarification? (1)

skiingyac (262641) | about 7 years ago | (#18768737)

I'm no fan of the current patent system, but what the GP is suggesting is not any more "sensible." Lets say I patent the wheel, so you can't SELL wheels without my license. But you're saying you should be able to rent them to people? Or, that you should be able to build a bus using my patented wheels and charge people for you to drive them around? You haven't technically sold anyone my wheel, but nobody is going to buy my wheel because they don't need them because you are using the publicly disclosed wheel description for your own benefit... which eliminates the incentive for me to patent the wheel in the first place.

There are probably other reasons why the patent in question sucks, but this isn't it.

Re:Clarification? (1)

skiingyac (262641) | about 7 years ago | (#18768519)

IANAL, but according to Wikipedia, "the patent gives the exclusive right to a patentee to prevent or exclude others from making, using, selling, offering to sell or importing the claimed invention."
I think the logic goes that they're not selling the hardware, but they are selling USE of the hardware, i.e. leasing/renting it to the customers on a per-minute basis. I think I've read elsewhere that you basically can't manufacture, distribute, etc. something that is patented, even for your own private use.

Re:Clarification? (1)

king-manic (409855) | about 7 years ago | (#18768643)

It's not the service, it's the technology behind the service. You can't patent something like "serving ice cream" but you can patent a particular novel flavor. You can't patent "selling computers" but you could patent an inventory system that helps you assmble them is a timely manner. You can't patent "driving people around" but you can patent a dispatch system that novel. If in any one of these three cases you use someone elses technology the court would insist you cease until they figure out if it truly was novel and legitimate.

Re:Clarification? (1)

jstomel (985001) | about 7 years ago | (#18768837)

In the US you can patent anything that is original, nonobvious, and useful. Anything. I recently heard of a guy who patented a system for filing your taxes. Not software for doing it, an algorithim for how to list deductions.

Re:Clarification? (1)

VWJedi (972839) | about 7 years ago | (#18769181)

In the US you can patent anything that is original, nonobvious, and useful.

Are you sure about that? From what I've seen, any two of the three will do.

The name "Vonage" may eventually go away . . . (2, Interesting)

PeeAitchPee (712652) | about 7 years ago | (#18768337)

. . . but the game will stay the same. That big ole user base is worth too much money to too many people to have it dissolved. I suspect that Verizon will try to forge a settlement which involves some large part of said users.

Huzzah for competition.

Re:The name "Vonage" may eventually go away . . . (1)

king-manic (409855) | about 7 years ago | (#18768747)

Verizon is bound by the rules that bind incumbant telecoms. Vonage is in too many markets, it might be a regulatory nightmare to "buy" their user base. Vonage ussually has a fairly regulation free position as a CLEC. Its business practices would vilify any ILEC but since it's the little guy the stories don't get blown up as big. Hard to cencel, hidden cencel fees, no service garentees, almost impossible to port out of, and so on. It has it's fans but everyone I know who has tried it, hates it.

As a Vonage customer, I have to say... (1)

maillemaker (924053) | about 7 years ago | (#18768365)

This sucks. I have been completely satisfied with my Vonage service. It is far superior to any other phone service I have ever had. The ability to have my voicemails delivered as email has been fantastic. The price has been fantastic. The Quality of Service has been fantastic.

And now it's all going away.

That sucks.

This "workaround" was vaporware..... (1)

8127972 (73495) | about 7 years ago | (#18768415)

...from the start. After all, that's what I'd say if I were in their position. Research in Motion talked about a workaround during the latter stage of its legal woes with NPT Inc. But in the end they paid six hundred extra-large ones (aka millions) to make NTP go away. So we'll never know if they really had a workaround of any sort (I suspect they never did, but what do I know). Given that Vonage has never made money, they're in no position to do what RIM did to solve this issue. So they're screwed plain and simple.

As for somebody buying them out..... Worst idea EVAH! Sure you get a customer base, but who would risk it? Verizon won't as they're going to pick up some customers no matter what if Vonage goes tits up. Anybody else will simply inherit Vonage's issues. So It seems more reasonable that they are going to die a slow death. .... Oh wait! They already are.

Good Thing (5, Funny)

ArchieBunker (132337) | about 7 years ago | (#18768425)

They sent me an email this morning saying I can save by paying a year in advance. Not a good idea now...

Re:Good Thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768581)

i already paid my year in advance...a few months ago before all this started. sucks to be me i guess...

Re:Good Thing (2, Interesting)

oliphaunt (124016) | about 7 years ago | (#18768925)

They sent me an email this morning saying I can save by paying a year in advance. Not a good idea now...

If Vonage can show that the Verizon patents are frivolous, customer sentiment like that will be evidence that Vonage can use in their countersuit for tortious interference...

(not a lawyer. yet.)

I just patented voice over O2.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768587)

Now shutup...

I'm confused (1)

strike6 (823490) | about 7 years ago | (#18768681)

The patents in question have to do with routing the calls to a conventional phone network if I remember right. How is it that Vonage is violating these patents, and can't find a workaround, while there are other VOIP services out there that do the exact same thing? How are those other services not violating the same patents? Or are they but they just haven't been sued yet? Cause if Vonage goes under I'd switch to another VOIP provider but I don't want to keep switching as each one gets sued out of existence.

where do they go? other providers, DUH (1)

swschrad (312009) | about 7 years ago | (#18768787)

go ahead, call for Qwest One-Flex, Asterisk, Speakeasy, whomever. I'm sure they'll transfer your number.

it's not like Vonage customers will never be able to use a phone again in their lives....

Cable companies next? (1)

MyNameIsEarl (917015) | about 7 years ago | (#18768801)

I wonder what happens when and if Verizon goes after the cable companies. Here in NYC Time Warner and Cablevision push their "Triple Play" packages a great deal. That is TV, Internet, and VOIP phone service for those who haven't seen this. With Verizon rolling out FIOS, I imagine the cable companies can not be happy about the phone company invading their tv domain, just as the tv company invaded Verizon's phone domain. Will these companies throw down and fight it out in court or will Verizon make nice and license the technology for a song and let the big media comglomerates continue as before.

If Verizon gives cheap licensing to others is Vonage not entitled to the same deal? Lots of questions still to be answered I believe.

Vonage customers will be singing.... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768817)

Boo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo!
Boo-hoo, boo-hoo,
Boo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo!

There needs to be an anti patent squatting law (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#18768855)

Such that, if you don't make reasonable progress bringing you idea to life then you forfeit protection. I think this is reasonable since you do have to build the darn thing to get a patent. Current you only have the describe the thing in legal speak.

Antitrust? (1)

Endo13 (1000782) | about 7 years ago | (#18768857)

If this patent really is so broad that it affects all VoIP and there's no possible work-around, then this sounds to me like an antitrust suit waiting to happen.

Move (1)

retro128 (318602) | about 7 years ago | (#18768939)

I browse at +3, so maybe I missed a comment thread regarding this, but since Vonage does VoIP - why couldn't they just move their operations out of the US like what Kazaa was doing when they were pursued by the RIAA?

Vonage may have an exit strategy (1)

ElForesto (763160) | about 7 years ago | (#18769037)

In the face of a patent infringement lawsuit from Sprint, they might just sell themselves [lightreading.com] to the company instead. The anticipated timing of such an announcement? April 24, when the hearing on the stay is set to occur. The slide in stock price definitely makes Vonage an attractive target for acquisition just for the customer base and Sprint has deep pockets to duke this thing out with.

salvage the hardware? (2, Interesting)

badnews (571848) | about 7 years ago | (#18769123)

supposing the worst, (Vonage dies or is given to Verizon), can the hardware be salvaged for some other use?

I've got the Linksys RTP300 box. If i understand correctly, the firmware has been 'updated' by Vonage to work only with Vonage service ...

It would be really cool if Vonage could, as a last act, stuff it with a linux kernel and Asterix.

Since I don't expect that to happen, is it possible to do that myself?
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