On VoIP Watch, my friend Andy Abramson tells an interesting story today that is both topical and illuminating in a higher altitude sort of way about the vagaries of intellectual property, patents, and litigation. According to Andy's story, it appears that US Robotics (nee 3Com) holds a patent that is extremely similar to the one Verizon is using to try to force Vonage to shut down ongoing sales operations. In theory, if I read the story correctly, Vonage could conceivably license the IP from 3Com to defend itself from Verizon. That's interesting in and of itself as this courtroom drama unfolds.
What makes this a multi-dimensional tale though, and what really piqued my interest was that both of these patents were apparently applied for and granted at about the same time back in 1996. Both address address mapping computers, VOIP phone devices, and regular phones to each other using the PSTN and the Internet using central lookup servers to match phone numbers and IP addresses.
The whole patent and trademark process is incredibly complex, confusing, and rife with problems. I'm neither a lawyer nor an expert in these technologies by any stretch of the imagination so it's beyond my ability to say whether this idea has any applicability to the Vonage-Verizon battle. If true, it would make an already emotionally charged story even more dramatic. I'm hoping some experts – either on the law or the technology – respond to Andy's call for comment and discussion.
Update: Alec Saunders weighs in on this in a post titled Stockpiling Warheads.