The softswitch market has gotten more than its share of
press over the past year, although in all fairness, I
guess a technology that stands to replace the telephony
infrastructure as we know it most likely deserves some
attention. And attention it will continue to get, so
long as I continue to receive news items such as a
recent press release from Simplified
claiming that they have won allowance for a patent
covering some of the most basic concepts of
The patent, entitled "System and Method for
Communicating With and Controlling Disparate
Telecommunications Devices in a Telecommunications
Network," appears to be a rather bold broad stroke, in
that it seems to apply to a concept as opposed to a
particular technology. Indeed, that's exactly what I
discussed with RHK analyst John Kuzma, who added that he
thought it was too soon to tell what the impact of
Simplified's patent action could be. "It's too vague to
determine exactly what's being covered in this patent
application," said Kuzma. "But, actions such as this are
certainly a sign of a maturing industry. We'll just have
to wait and see."
I also corresponded with Rich Phillips, Chief
Communication Officer for Simplified regarding the
announcement. I e-mailed Rich a series of questions, the
responses to which I'm including here, in the hopes that
they may shed some light on this issue. (For those of
you who follow the vagaries of publishing a monthly
magazine, keep in mind that this interview took place in
RT: Please describe the scope of Simplified's
recent patent application.
RP: Simplified has filed numerous
patent applications directed to several technologies
covering aspects of the control, operation, management,
and use of converged telecommunications networks and
Broadly speaking, our patent applications include
claims directed to technologies for controlling
disparate telecommunications devices in converged
networks, as well as processes and business methods
associated with acquisition and management of
communications services available via such converged
Recently, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
has found merit in early Simplified patent application
filings. The patent that we announced July 30, entitled "System
and Method for Communicating With and Controlling
Disparate Telecommunications Devices in a
Telecommunications Network," has significant reach into
the converged networking marketplace. Claims allowed by
the USPTO apply to any network in which calls are
processed by multiple network devices, and where such
devices include the operations of a voice response
The work covered in this patent is part of our answer
to the market need for hardware-neutral,
software-defined services infrastructure. We no longer
see costly, single-vendor installations as viable in the
increasingly commoditized telephony and networking
spaces. The key is targeted software to remove hardware
differences. We believe this work provides that key.
The patent will issue and the document will be made
available through the USPTO in early September.
Simplified has more than 20 additional patents pending.
RT: What specific technologies does the patent
RP: This grant represents a key portion
of our technology portfolio: An efficient software layer
to abstract out costly differences in networking and
communications hardware. Where traditional softswitch
solutions fall short and address only those
discrepancies in a single vendor's line, our work goes
further to homogenize multiple protocols and product
In Simplified's patent, the USPTO has allowed claims
covering the translation of messages generated by
specific telecommunications devices that are formatted
based on a particular protocol scheme into ambiguous
messages that may be processed and passed to other
devices regardless of their messaging schemes.
For example, the claims cover all device message
conversions that occur between a switching facility and
a voice response facility within a converged voice and
data network. When the switching facility and the voice
response facility are manufactured to use different
protocols, for example, Simplified's patent-pending
technology allows seamless integration and
communications to occur without requiring customers and
service providers to write a single piece of
Converged networks and especially those facilitating
voice and data call processing can now take advantage of
the patent-pending technologies developed by Simplified
to permit implementation of heterogeneous network
infrastructures that incorporate best-of-breed products
using a multitude of messaging protocols.
RT: What does this mean for the many other vendors
in the softswitch/next-gen networking space?
RP: Claims made in the patent cover
what we see as critical components to the future of
next-generation networks, these stemming from the
necessity to provide both voice and data over an
efficiently managed, software-defined network. The
patent does cover core softswitch technology, but
whether it affects these vendors may depend on what they
define as a softswitch solution.
Softswitches have been subject to some market
confusion as varied definitions have crowded the market
by established hardware vendors and new entrants. The
original concept has its roots in Class 4 and Class 5
switch replacement, but some "softswitch" vendors have
branded their hardware-based media gateways as "softswitch
platforms." To the industry's chagrin, many "softswitch
solutions" have failed to deliver infrastructure
flexibility or cost savings as they have contributed to
the complexity of network management.
Despite market confusion, the theory behind the
softswitch is sound and new products and software-based
multiprotocol solutions are emerging that are aligned
with the original vision.
Simplified's patent covers the "system and method"
used by these multiprotocol solutions. A company
providing such a solution may be in violation of the
patent. It may be that the solution combines software
and hardware from several companies, but if the
capability exists in the network to do multiprotocol
messaging conversion, the solution infringes on
Simplified's patent. Customers of these solutions may be
infringing on the patent as well.
It is quite possible, too, that there are hardware or
software companies with development projects underway to
create something we've already patented. If so, this
could be a win-win situation for them -- they can
license the technology today and save money on the
costly development projects.
RT: What sort of approach can we expect from
Simplified regarding partnerships and licensing
agreements resulting from this new patent?
RP: Because of the broad and
significant reach of this patent, we plan to implement
what we call a patent-friendly strategy in the
marketplace. Upon issuance, Simplified will use its
patent rights to encourage customers, service providers,
competitors, hardware vendors, and others to partner
with Simplified in adopting our software platform when
implementing and operating converged networks.
We filed the patent in 1999, and actually have had
the software from which this patent was derived in
operation at customer sites since 1997. The patent
covers the technology at the core of our Network
Management Application Suite, a component of the
Simplified Open Services Platform, which enables service
providers to deliver and manage any communication
service over any network regardless of network hardware
We have determined five or six companies that we will
approach first. Some of these are softswitch vendors. We
will be sending a letter to each explaining the patent
and our desire to enter into partner or license
agreements them. We think we can make a compelling
argument for either adopting our platform where it makes
sense or reaching a license agreement.
RT: Does this patent have significant financial
implications for Simplified?
RP: We do believe there are companies
in the softswitch market as well as some network
hardware companies and possibly their customers that
infringe on or have projects in the works that infringe
on claims allowed in the patent.
As mentioned, we expect to develop sound working
relationships with these companies. Some of these
agreements will certainly generate new revenue. Some
will benefit us by gaining new and strong partners in
the marketplace. Whenever possible, Simplified will seek
to enter into partnering agreements and license
agreements to permit others to make, use and sell
Simplified's patentable technologies in exchange for
reasonable royalties and the like.
But it goes further than that. We see this patent as
a boon to the communications industry as well. We have
always seen the move to an open, software-defined,
software-controlled network as inevitable and essential
to the survival of service providers. To be successful,
a service provider must be able to provide both voice
and data services, yet be enabled to control and manage
all its services simply and efficiently using software.
This patent takes software control one giant step
I'm curious to see how this plays out and how it will
affect our industry. Will all the other vendors in the
softswitch market "play nice" and work with Simplified,
paying out royalties to use the technology? Or will this
action encourage the opposite response, spurring
opposition, and entangling the future of our industry in
countless drawn-out court battles? There's no way to
tell just yet, but I certainly welcome your responses.
Let me know what you think. Drop me a line at email@example.com.
To The October 2001 Table Of Contents ]