Tuesday, November 14, 2006

E.D. Texas Rules Big for Defendant Comcast

In Caritas v. Comcast (2-05-cv-339), district Judge David Folsom of the Eastern District of Texas in Texarkana found in October that Comcast had not infringed on Caritas' patent, based on the underlying Markman ruling. Last week, Folsom formally entered that judgment.

This case could have had devastating effect on the Voice over IP (VoIP) industry, especially as it pertains to cable providers’ VoIP offerings - during settlement meetings, it was reported that Caritas was asking for $2.2 billion dollars from Comcast, and it was almost certain that other VoIP providers would have been subsequently targeted if Comcast settled or lost in court.

One of the patents at issue, U.S. Patent 6,661,799, reads as follows:

1. A system for controlling communication among a plurality of conferees, the system comprising:

a digital computer for controlling and monitoring telephonic connections over an Internet Protocol (IP) communication network; and

a switch interface in communication wit the digital computer over said IP communication network and further in communication with a dial up communication network, wherein:

the digital computer transmits digital control signals to the switch interface over the IP communication network;

the switch interface transmits telephonic control signals to the dial up communication network in response to said digital control signals to establish at least one telephonic connection for a conference among the plurality of conferees; and

the digital computer subsequently monitors the at least one telephonic connection over the IP communication network.

Caritas claimed the patent could be read to include calls that were made partly using VoIP connections and partly across the public switched telephone network (PSTN). During litigation, a hotly contested issue was the meaning of term, “telephone connection in a telephone network.” The Markman ruling held that the patent owned by Caritas was intended as a way to set up conference calls on the PSTN, and not a way to have actual voice signals transmitted over an IP network. The court subsequently issued a ruling asserting that the term, “telephone connection in a telephone network,” means a circuit-switched connection between telephones."

Since Comcast didn't use circuit-switched connections, Caritas stipulated to a judgment of non-infringement, and is expected to appeal the decision to the Federal Circuit.

While this wasn't a jury verdict, you nevertheless have to wonder is the current pro-plaintiff environment is starting to slip at the E.D. Tex. - in September, Michael Smith at the E.D. Texas Blog speculated that the win rate for plaintiffs this year is hovering about 60% ("a whopping one percent over the national average")

See Caritas's current patent portfolio here.

See Jessie Seyfer's reporting in The Recorder on this case here.

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