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Net2Phone: Owner of the VoIP A-Bomb?

IDT (IDT) subsidiary Net2Phone sued Skype for patent infringement in the middle of last week, and somehow I missed it. Courtesy of Om Malik, here is a copy of the suit, including the patent which was submitted as evidence. 

Rich Tehrani commented that “Anyone who has been in this business long enough knows that before Skype ever existed, Net2Phone was selling VoIP service.”  Andy Abramson asks whether EBay did sufficient due diligence before the acquisition.

This morning’s Business Week asks whether the suit can ground Skype.  It speculates that this is an opportunistic action, and that there is likely to be a countersuit by Skype claiming infringement of it’s patents.  A quick search at USPTO.GOV, though, reveals more than 100 granted patents or filed applications by Net2Phone, and none that I could see by Skype. 

The patent itself is an interesting read.  Filed in September of 1995, it contemplates a system for looking up the IP address of other voice capable clients on a network using either a database, or an email based exchange of addresses, and then permitting streams of packetized data to flow between the clients.  Clients register, signal availability, and initiate sessions.  It’s starkly similar to the SIP architecture, or for that matter, to DNS.

Is this the atomic bomb of VoIP patents?  Should we expect to see suits against all SIP vendors?

It turns out that SIP, and it’s precursors, may be prior art. Henning Shulzrinne published the first SCIP (the precursor to SIP) draft in February of 1996, and in March of that year presented a paper titled “Personal Mobility for Multimedia Services in the Internet“, which provides details of many very similar ideas.  Although these works were published after Net2Phone’s patent filing, 36 precursor works are cited in the references of Shulzrinne’s paper. 

There may also be an H.323 connection. In May of 1996, the ITU approved the H.323v1 standard, which also contemplates a similar registration and signalling regime.  Obviously the standard didn’t emerge fully formed in May of that year.  It was likely several years in the making.

Dawn Kawamoto’s story on CNET also has several commenters suggesting other examples of prior art. 

Net2Phone isn’t a patent troll, but ultimately the patent they’ve been granted may not be worth anything either. This should be interesting to watch play out.

{ 3 comments… add one }

  • Emmanuel Proulx June 6, 2006, 7:18 am

    Yet another example of patent that's just too general. I myself am thinking about patenting "talking".

    This brings up the question of proprietary versus standard technology. Not that this kind of issue wouldn't come up if you stick with standards. But I'm sure it would be much harder to sue the industry in general rather than a single company. I'd like to see Net2Phone sue companies over SIP. That would go nowhere.

    I guess telling Skype "I told you so, you should have used SIP" won't help at this point.


  • /pd June 6, 2006, 7:48 am

    its funny that net2phone is suddenly emerging out of the burrows. Way back ion 1997/9 I played with net2phine and it was darn good. But for some reasons they did not gain traction ! !!

    Or was this part of the Strategy itself ?? lie low, let a contender come in. let thme put in the hardworks and then and make the big Bucks and then sue them .

    this is same history akin to the NTP and RIM case !!

  • skibare June 6, 2006, 11:03 am

    hey, I am the VOIP NUKE……..you must have stolen my PATENT on the Voip "A" Bomb……..

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