Stop us if you've heard this one; two telecoms heavyweights are headed to court over allegations of patent infringement.
This time, it's Sprint and Charter who are bringing out the lawyers over allegations that Charter's phone service infringes on more than a dozen voice over internet protocol (VoIP) patents Sprint was issued 20-plus years ago when the technology was in its infancy.
Sprint says it developed the voice over packet (now known as VoIP) systems in the 1990s when engineer Joe Christie came up with a way to route calls without the use of expensive PSTN switches. He created a system modeled on computer network protocol, a more efficient method for handling high volumes.
"The call processor acted like the brains of the network, determining where a call needed to go and then enabling routing to its destination. This call processor extracted the intelligence of expensive and complicated legacy switches and placed this intelligence on functionally separate computer platforms," Sprint says.
"By extracting call control from the switch manufacturers, Mr. Christie allowed a host of competitors to provide processing equipment and to get into the business of telephony. This innovation would eventually increase competition, drive down the costs of telephony, and greatly improve efficiency."
The 13 patents at issue are all related to the way calls can be routed as packets over a data network:
- US Patent 6,343,084, a "system for providing virtual connections through an ATM interworking multiplexer on a call-by-call basis."
- US Patent 6,633,561, described as "a method in which signaling is processed externally to a switch before it is applied by the network elements."
- US Patent 6,463,052, covering "a method in which signaling is processed externally to a switch before it is applied by the network elements."
- US Patent 6,452,932, a telco network that includes a processor and network management. "The processor is able to select network characteristics and signal the network elements based the selections. A network employing the processing method is also included, as well as a signaling system that employs the processing method."
- US Patent 6,473,429, described as "a system for providing virtual connections through an ATM interworking multiplexer on a call-by-call basis."
- US Patent 6,298,064, another ATM/multiplexer call-routing patent. "The signaling processor generates new signaling that identifies the selection and transfers the new signaling to the ATM interworking multiplexer that accepted the access connection for the call. The multiplexer converts user information from the access connection into ATM cells for transmission over the virtual connection in accord with the new signaling."
- US Patent 6,330,224, another call-routing patent where "an asynchronous transfer mode interworking unit receives the user communications from the communication device and the processor control message from the signaling processor."
- US Patent 6,697,340, described as "A system and method provide enhanced services for a call that is transported from a communication device through an asynchronous transfer mode system. The call has user communications in asynchronous transfer mode cells and call signaling."
- US Patent 7,286,561, described as "a method in which signaling is processed externally to a switch before it is applied by the network elements."
- US Patent 7,505,454, a telecom control system where "the processor is able to select network characteristics and signal the network elements based the selections. A network employing the processing method is also included, as well as a signaling system that employs the processing method."
- US Patent 7,327,728, a "communication unit configured to receive the control messages and user communications for the calls, and responsively on the call-by-call basis, convert the user communications from a first communication format into a second communication format having headers that include the routing information selected by the signaling processor and transfer the user communications in the second communication format."
- US Patent 7,324,534, a system that "can process the GR-303 signaling to select ATM connections and then interwork the GR-303 connections with the selected ATM connections."
- US Patent 7,693,131, a system where "the user device exchanges telephony signaling and telephony communications in an analog format with an analog telephone, exchanges the telephony signaling and the telephony communications in the packet format over the packet connection, and exchanges internet communications over the packet connection."
According to Sprint's complaint, all the 13 of the technologies described in the patent are used by Charter in Spectrum Voice and Spectrum Business Voice, the two voice calling services Charter offers in its bundled cable services.
Sprint also claims that some older products (Charter Residential and Business phone services) and two acquired services (Bright House Residential and Business phone services,) are also trodding on the patents without paying for a license.
Sprint is now asking the Delaware court for a jury trial to determine back licensing charges, though most cases of this nature end in a settlement long before a jury enters the picture. ®