Business VoIP Featured Article

Apple to Defend Technology Against Potential Patent Troll

June 29, 2016

By Susan J. Campbell, Business VoIP Contributing Editor

Technology is a great thing. It helps us better manage our lives, provides access to information and interactions at our fingertips, it enables us to be mobile and keeps us connected no matter our location. These benefits mean that consumers and businesses alike create significant opportunities for technology providers, but this success leads to more than just a financial windfall. 

Those companies that are extremely successful in the technology space are also at risk of impeding on other technology owners. The demand for business VoIP, for instance, has created tremendous opportunity in the market for solutions that not only support streamlined communications in-house, but also on handheld devices. Think Apple’s FaceTime. The introduction of a fun and innovative way of staying connected can also be an invitation for legal woes.

Apple is currently under fire from Straight Path Group, a non-practicing entity that alleges that FaceTime violates five of its patents. The video chatting capability with front-facing camera system was the subject of a lawsuit filed by the same group in 2014. It was dismissed in 2015. Apparently, Straight Path Group wasn’t to be deterred and is seeking unspecified monetary compensation as well as reimbursements of legal fees in a newly filed suit.

Some have argued that Straight Path Group is a patent troll, especially given that it is a non-practicing company. The patents under question were previously owned by NetSpeak Corporation and were used in a product known as WebPhone. The patents have already passed the validity re-examination by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The patents in question point to technology that relies on business VoIP to link two devices together on a single network. The devices do not maintain a permanent connection to this network. When a user launches a business VoIP app to call a second user, the app notes and broadcasts the first user’s IP address to a service, displaying the user’s status as “online.” The same method is used to ascertain the recipient’s availability.

The technology used by Apple in its FaceTime app tracks users’ IP addresses in a similar way. Straight Path Group suggests that this infringes on their patents. The company believes that the technology incorporated into the WebPhone nearly 20 years ago is infringed by FaceTime’s integration on devices, such as the iPhone and iPad.

Given its enormous success in the global market, Apple is going to be a target for those who believe the company infringed on their patents, whether they are patent trolls or not. While the case is still pending, Apple is already spending millions to defend its position and its right to FaceTime technology. Whether that right extends beyond this case, we’ll have to wait and see. 



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