Wednesday, December 28, 2005

RATES TECHNOLOGY INC. WANTS TO BE YOUR GATEWAY TO COST-ROUTING VOIP: Big news has surfaced that Google was sued in October by Rates Technology Inc. (RTI), holder of US Patents 5,425,085 and 5,519,769. The applications for these patent were respectively filed in the USPTO in March and And April of 1994. In the complaint filed against Google (view copy of complaint here, courtesy of, RTI alleges that the recently-launched Google Talk VoIP infringes both of these patents.

After skimming through the patents, it is apparent that VoIP was not the main focus of the patents - however this is not preventing RTI from interpreting the claimed features as being applicable to VoIP. While VoIP hasn't really "emerged" until the last 5 years or so, it can be argued that the technology is merely a commercial realization of the experimental Network Voice Protocol invented for the ARPANET in 1973.

The patents cover "least cost routing" of telephone calls, and also claim a specific device for implementing the routing. The '085 patent claims the following:

1. A device for routing telephone calls along a least cost route originating from a first telephone to a second telephone having an associated telephone number via a network having a plurality of alternate communication switch paths corresponding to different carriers which can be chosen to route the call and normallyproviding a current to said first telephone when said first telephone is in use, comprising:

a housing forming an enclosure and comprising first jack means for connection to said first telephone and second jack means for connection to said network

switch means operatively connected to said first jack means for disconnecting said first telephone from said network,

means operatively connected to said switch means for generating a current through said switch means to the first telephone, corresponding to a current provided by said network,

database means for storing billing rate parameters for determining a least cost communication path for call corresponding to said telephone number,

means operatively connected to said switch means for detecting and storing said telephone number originating from the first telephone means for addresssing said database means for identifying a plurality of communication switch paths to to said second telephone and the cost rate of each path,

means for comparing the cost rate of each path so as to determine a least cost route, and

means operatively connected to said switch means and said second jack means for generating a number sequence corresponding to a desired carrier so that said call is routed through said second jack means to the selected communication path and carrier to establish a switched connection between said first telephone and said second telephone phone.

And the '769 claims the following:

1. A method for updating a database that stores billing rate parameters for a call rating device used for cost determinations for a calling station, comprising the steps of

connecting at a predetermined time and date via a data transfer line the call rating device to a rate provider having billing rate parameters for a plurality of calling stations,

transmitting over the data transfer line indicia identifying the call rating device and the date and time of the last update of the billing rate parameters,

verifying if billing rate parameters should be updated, and

transmitting from the rate provider to the call rating device the updated billing rate parameters when the rate provider determines that an update is required.

The USPTO transaction history for each of these patents may be viewed here and here. As you can see, RTI is likely trying to apply the claimed features to the voice router/phone adapter found in most VoIP configurations.

Some problems that pop out after reviewing the claims is that the '085 patent is replete with means-plus-function claims (i.e. database means, switch means, etc.). Under normal circumstances, such claims are interpreted more narrowly than normal patent claims. Furthermore, if RTI wants to apply the doctrine of equivalents to these claims, the legal analysis is an absolute nightmare (for patent practitioners, this is the "equivalent of an equivalent" situation that has sometimes vexed the Federal Circuit). Then again, this could work to the advantage of RTI, since Google will have to spend considerable time establishing non-infringement and invalidity positions.

A second problem I see in the '769 patent is that each of the independent claims require a rate provider to provide billing parameters - as far as I know, no such steps are performed by Google.

Rich Tehrani has an excellent expose' on RTI, and provides some very interesting information on the litigation habits of the company on his VoIP Blog:

- Overall, RTI claims to have agreements in place with 700-800 companies and have litigated 25 times in 15 years.

- RTI has agreements in place with 76 large companies such as Huawei Technologies, Lucent, and Cisco at this time. The company claims that larger companies "understand how intellectual property rights work in the US while the smaller ones usually don't."

- RTI claims that the '085 and '769 patents generally apply to hybrid cellphones, gateways, IP Phones, IP PBX's, edge routers, core routers, PC computers, ITSPs, and VoIP products, services and technologies, among several other telecommunications products, services and technologies.

- Mitel Networks was sued for $945 Million; Alcatel was sued for $1.155 Billion; and their default is pending in USDC EDNY. Hello Direct, GN Netcom and GN had been sued by RTI for patent infringement, and they recently settled with RTI; the terms are being kept confidential.

- RTI's licencing strategy doesn't extract royalties for the lifetime sales of a product, and only asks for a one-time fee.

10 Comentários:

Ankush said...

It just shows how the whole patent regime is replete with flaws. RTI is exploiting 'doctrine of equivalents'like anything. I feel that there should be a provision in patent laws that a company not developing a technology will be stripped of patents pertaining to that technology.

Anonymous said...

Ankush Garg wrote some
very foolish comment.

How about US universities ?
Do you want to take away their patents too ?

Anonymous said...

The claims of Weinberger and RTI seem to show a profound ignorance of the technology they claim to have `invented'.

For those who have not used Google Talk, I'll describe it. When you launch the application, a small window appears which provides the interface to the application. Part of the interface includes a `friends list' from which the user can select someone with whom to communicate. The interface indicates which friends are available and which are not. By clicking on a friend's name, a window appears and the user and the selected friend can type messages back and forth to each other. This functionality is similar to many `instant messaging' applications (for example, AIM).

Should the pair of users desire (and if their computers have the necessary hardware and resources), they can forego the typing and use the computer's built-in microphone and speakers to converse. The user experience is somewhat like a telephone call (although it would be more closely described as being like `ham' radio). The illusion is deliberately enhanced by the use of a button labelled `call', a `ring tone' presented to the originator while the recipient acknowledeges, accepts, or declines the conversation, and an `electronic ringing' on the recipient's end to indicate a request to converse. The reason to present this mode of operation is obvious: everyone knows what a phone call is and thus little or no training is needed to use the application.

Since many of your readers may not be familiar with the technology, I'll describe it. The technology behind making this work is complex, but the principle is somewhat straightforward. The text based instant message system works like this: as a user types, the stream of keystrokes are translated to a series of messages that indicate the keys typed. If they were human readable, the messages would say something like `at 8:43 and 10 seconds, the letter H was pressed', `at 8:43 and 11 seconds, the letters `EL' were pressed'. Each of these rather trivial messages is encoded in an internet packet and is sent via the internet to the recipient's software. The recipient's software simply extracts the messages from the packet and displays the characters on the screen.

It is way beyond the scope of this comment to describe how the internet works, but it has three primary jobs: ensure that each packet arrives exactly once (no missing messages, no duplicate messages) at the destination (the particular path of a packet is chosen by various elements of the internet and is not generally under control of the computer at either end of the connection) in the order it was sent (some packet could be slowed down for various reasons. If order were not preserved, the characters typed could be scrambled upon receipt. The internet protocol ensures that the original order can be recovered). If the internet works as it should, the messages containing the text you type will arrive at the destination ready to be unpacked.

So how does the voice part work? This is an almost obvious extension of the text part: rather than record the keystrokes as the user presses keys, the computer records the users utterances with the microphone. The waveform of the sound is recorded into a packet almost *exactly* like the one that records the keystrokes. The packet is delivered on the internet in *exactly* the same way as the text packet was. The recipient's software simply extracts the utterance and sends it to the speaker rather than to the text window.

There are two technical nuances that have to be taken into account: First is that pauses in typing, even between characters, is tolerable. Pauses in the middle of vocal utterances, however, is not tolerable. You need to ensure the timely delivery of voice packets if you are to avoid having the user `break up'. Even though this is a serious problem of voice transmission over the internet, it is not yet solved. Second, you have to deal with the fact that the computer microphone also picks up the noise emitted by the computer speaker. It is necessary to try to filter this out through `echo cancellation' techniques. Anyone who uses voice on the internet is well aware that these are not solved problems.

As one can clearly see, the `phone call' analogy is a convenient facade for the user interface. The underlying technology is very different from that which is connected to the telephone at your house.

Returning to the claims of Weinburger and Rates Technologies, it is difficult to understand how Weinburger could rationally claim applicability (alas, the first casualty of litigation is rationality). Their patent covers `least cost routing' of telephone calls, a device for performing that routing, and a way of maintaining the database of routing costs. There is no `call' (that is, an end-to-end connection between the two participants), there is no `first telephone' (I cannot place phone calls on my computer: it is not attached to a phone network, there is nothing to dial) there is no `second telephone' (the recipient is using his computer as well. As far as I know, I cannot connect to his phone from my computer.) Neither computer has an associated telephone number. My computer is connected to one, and only one internet provider. There is no plurality of alternate communication switch paths corresponding to different carriers. Nor does my internet provider normally provide me with a `current' when I'm using the service. (If they did, I would be quite upset.)

There do not appear to be any nouns or verbs in common with the patent claim and what happens when I use Google talk.

The `gist' of the patent seems to be that it covers `choosing between various service providers'. Even in the broadest interpretation it's hard to understand how it could apply to a voice chat client like Google talk. Google talk does no `routing' or `switching' whatsoever: whatever comes in the microphone (or is typed by the user) is simply placed to the sole internet connection. Few end users have more than one internet connection and the choice of which connection to use is not usually under the control of the application, it is controlled by the operating system. A voice chat client performs no more `switching' than does the handset component of a standard telephone.

Weinburger is clearly ignorant of the technology, but I imagine he knows a word describing `a business or enterprise carrying on a dishonest scheme in order to make money'.

Anonymous said...

The patent claim for least cost routing (LCR) is also bogus. PBXs (office telephone systems) have had LCR tables and ARS (automatic route selection) tables since at least the 1980s, i.e. at least five to ten years before the 1994 filing date of the patent in question.

ARS works like this: You define a list of dialable codes, for example, 1+, 0+, 011+, area codes, exchange prefixes, and tie-line codes (the latter are private lines connecting distant PBXs, for example at branches of a company in different cities). For each of these entries in the table, you then define a route for the call. The route can consist of a specific trunk group (e.g. your main outgoing trunks, or a competing service provider's trunks, or a tie-line trunk group, etc.) and/or a set of "add/drop" or "insert/delete" digits. The PBX processes calls accordingly.

For example, back in the 1980s when competing long distance used direct trunks to the LD carrier's switch, you would define calls to nearby area codes as using your dominant local carrier and calls to other area codes as using the competing carrier.

In cases where your company wasn't big enough to need a separate trunk group, very often you had to dial up the competing carrier's switch and then enter a user ID code to make a call on the competing carrier. The user ID code would be an example of "add digits."

An employee at their desk would pick up their phone and dial 9 + 1 + area code & phone number. The PBX would look at the 9+1+area code and compare to the entries on the table. If it found the area code in the "competing carrier" section, for example "route to trunk group 2" (where trunk group 2 was the competing carrier). Or, it would dial the local number for the competing carrier, and insert pauses and the User ID code digits where needed. The PBX would do these things automatically and transparently to the callers.

The advent of VOIP has changed exactly nothing in this area. You can convert IP-telephony lines into analog lines and plug them into a PBX as another trunk group. You can then program the PBX to route specified calls via this trunk group. Or you can use an IP Gateway card in the PBX and plug that directly into your internet connection (whether DSL or a T1, and typically behind your router). As far as the PBX is concerned, it's just another trunk or trunk group.

As for automatic downloads of rate tables, competing carriers have been providing that service since the late 1980s or early 1990s as well: before the patent in question.

And as for a device that does this for a single-line analog telephone such as a residential line, MITEL came out with the SMART-1 dialer device in 1985. See also:
Go to the third paragraph, the line directly under 1. Mitel's Call Controller and Command Codes, and you'll see "Mitel began manufacturing the Smart-1 call controller for sale in 1985..."

So I'll call BS on RTS for this one, altogether and in its entirety. If you want someone for court testimony, ask anyone who worked as a telephone systems tech in the period from about 1980 through 1995: they will swear to the same things as I described above.

In effect, what RTS has done here is to appropriate others' prior art, re-package it with obfuscatory language, and submit it as original *when in fact it is not original.* This is arguably submitting a fraudulent claim to USPTO, much as one might submit a goosed-up claim for a perpetual motion machine.

In my estimation RTS is a slimy outfit that deserves to be counter-sued for all they're worth and then shut down. Their "business model" which produces nothing and seeks to make its money by suing others who do produce things, is parasitic. People who do that sort of thing for a living are little more than con-men and extortionists in respectable clothing: unproductive bottom-feeding sociopaths for whom prison cells would be charitable.

Ankush said...

Mr. Anonymous

Your comments against RTI pertaining to google talk) are very insightful.

I indeed made a very foolish comment when I said - I feel that there should be a provision in patent laws that a company not developing a technology will be stripped of patents pertaining to that technology.

However, I meant the following when I made the above comment.

If one comes to fundamentals of patents - society paying the inventor for sharing his invention so that society can further develop and use his invention - what is the point of honoring the inventor (morally and financially) when his patents are strangling the society to develop it further and is using society's resources (we pay taxes which run the courts). My argument may appear a mere 'playing with words'; it is because I am talking about a very fundamental and radical shift in patent laws - probably something that will never take place.

So, shouldn't a company indulging in unfair practices on back of its patents be stripped of those patents?

Anonymous said...

You see, Ankush Garg,

patent system is the same for everybody: large companies like IBM, small one-person companies, universities etc.

Why is it perfectly OK for e.g IBM to extract licensing fees from the whole industry for the patents they don't use in their products, and not OK for some reason for a small one-person company to do the same ?
Why can a univesity do pure research and no product development and still collect royalties from the industry, and a one-person company is not entitled to the same rights ?
The law is the same for everyone, whether some people like it or not...
This is the only way it should be if you just think about it for a moment...

Anonymous said...

I have two main problems with patents the way US does it currently.

1) What is the effort that has gone into the discovery. Is it a sudden inspiration that any other human being with similar general education and awareness (but not years of specialized research effort) could have had ? Then such patents are nothing but predatory land grabbing. Patents for the zipper is a plain example. Someday when the US military and economic power wanes enough other countries will stop paying for such. However, a patent backed with large amounts of research spending effort should be protected.

2) The law is NOT the same for everyone. Most inventors from non-western countries cannot afford either the US patenting process or a US lawsuit. However, failing a US lawsuit has global implications. Thus the current patent regime is little more than a sophisticated banditry by powerful rich that runs the US.

If the patent laws and suits are handled by UN established courts, free of cost to the inventors and challengers, under a set of rules approved by majority of the nations with a clear intention to reward research effort and not mere serendipity, then patenting will actually contribute to real global growth.

Anonymous said...

Perpetual motion machines* (the latin term perpetuum mobile is not uncommon) are a class of hypothetical machines which would produce useful energy "from nowhere." The existence of a perpetual motion machine is generally accepted as being impossible according to current known laws of physics. In particular, perpetual motion machines would violate either the first or second laws of thermodynamics. Perpetual motion machines are divided into two
subcategories, referred to as perpetual motion of the first kind and perpetual motion of the second kind. There is a chance that the accepted laws of physics are wrong, but a lot of evidence is needed to regeneralize these.
Clean the air? It is possible. Clean water? It is possible too.
Clean energy? It is possible as well.
My idea is very difficult for understanding. It is not difficult for engineer - mechanic, who knows very good the Pascal's law and even-arm lever.
Please open GOOgle and find metozor and next :
index of metozor.
Overthere is all about idea of main .
example : or
The conception of an energy is discreate one to the same as a imbecility. No one has seen the energy and no one has seen the imbecility. We are able to observe results of the energy and imbecility. At present we have got to few energy because we have got to much imbecility.
Thank you for your time and interest.

Anonymous said...

New kind of clean energy has been invented!!!
Please open GOOgle and klick metozor and after : index of metozor At is site that explains technical details in easy to understand language. example : or
Everyone is able to build just the model of METOZ machine and test it. Please, have a look at Perhaps METOZ is some duplicating machine of a clean energy.
Thank you for your time and interest.
E-mail this article to friends.

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