AT&T Seeks Patent For Limiting Access To U.S. Workers

from the this-is-patent-worthy? dept

theodp writes "To be fair, IBM isn’t the only corporation guilty of demanding U.S. patents for outsourcing methods. For example, AT&T Knowledge Ventures has a patent pending for Managing Incoming Telephone Calls at a Call Center, an invention that calls for transferring callers to offshore call centers unless advance payment is received for the privilege of speaking to someone in the United States. ‘Such an option may be beneficial to callers who have difficulties with accents or who have personal or political agendas against outsourcing,’ explains Ma Bell 2.0. AT&T’s patent claims also cover buying down wait time (‘The current wait time is 34 minutes. You may reduce your wait time by a minute for each dollar you are willing to pay. Please enter the number of minutes/dollars you want.’)."

Beyond the ridiculousness of the very concept, I’ve heard such an idea talked about for years. It’s a pretty straightforward and obvious idea — but it’s one that few others were interested in implementing (or patenting) as it would likely piss off users. Apparently AT&T doesn’t worry about such things. In the meantime, in March of 2004 (about a year and a half before AT&T filed for its patent), I wrote about how the company E-Loan was offering something quite similar. Rather than an upfront payment, E-Loan offered customers a choice of an onshore or offshore call center person, with the knowledge that an offshore support person would help them get a loan faster and an onshore one would take longer. That seems pretty similar to the idea of paying — it’s just that the cost is in time instead of money. Even if this isn’t direct prior art, it certainly suggests that these types of ideas have been floating around for quite some time and hardly should be entirely “owned” by one company.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: at&t

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “AT&T Seeks Patent For Limiting Access To U.S. Workers”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Eric the Grey says:


I think I’d dump any company that pulled that on me. If I’m calling a company for support, then in some manner, I’m entitled to that support. Either I’ve paid for it when I purchased a product, or afterwords, as part of a continuing service contract.

The idea of off-shore support is bad enough, but to charge me extra to speak with (and thus keeping them employed) US Citizens, is an outrage. It seems like time to make certain such things are included in contracts.

And the idea that they’ll offer some bozo with more money than sense the opportunity to jump ahead of me makes the whole thing even worse.


Max Powers at (user link) says:

AT&T better not test me

What bothers me more than the patent nonsense is the idea of charging for the choice of an onshore or offshore call center or charging to “go the the head of the line”.

I have to admit I have never heard of this before. In fact, if this gets implemented and I am ever given one of the choices above, I just might go to the closest AT&T office near me and bring my hammer like the lady did at the Comcast office

I said it, there AT&T, just try me.

dualboot says:

I'm outta there

A certain computer company, to remain unnamed here, once wanted me to enter my credit card # just to connect to a tech support person when my video card failed out of the box. (Think… the message showing on my MONITOR said that the computer could not finish booting because a MONITOR could not be detected). I returned the entire system, and have never bought that brand again… even when they had the best price on a machine with great specs.

I think AT&T would find the same results from disgruntled customers. After pulling that stunt, it would be hard to get us back, even after stopping the program.

F ZAPPA says:


ATT say’s there are the largest network. That is not true so if someone was smart they put a lawsuit on ATT to stoop telling lies in their AD’S.. the government should not allowed ATT to become the same crap as it was in 1980 before the had to brake up the company.
There is no reason that we should pay extra service to receive support!

me says:

Subject is "Patents"

If one lets the free market work, well, freely, the ridiculousness of charging for US support over overseas techs will become obvious. Or it won’t – those who have the money may choose to go that route, even if the rest of us think it’s a ripoff. I agree with Eric the Grey – if I am calling, it’s because of some pre-existing warranty or service due me.

I’m far more interested in what exactly they are attempting to patent. What is patentable about deciding to add fees to a call?

It’s the big picture that is important here. Put together factoids like this one with the guy who patented the brain waves he “discovered”, corporate patents on DNA strings and who knows else. I’m not sure what the patent holders intend to do with the patents, but I am not about to allow anyone to charge me fees for something my body produces naturally, with no participation on my part (other than breathing, etc.)

Bogging the conversation down in details pretty much guarantees that no action will be taken for a very long time and no one will ever question the basic premises and assumptions. Have you heard any discussion about preemptive attacks on other countries and what standards should be used in evaluating the intelligence those attacks may be based on?

me says:

and this too

Joe, unless you were in the room with dualboot at the time, you can hardly jump to the conclusion that he made a mistake. Given the user name, I doubt the writer was that inexperienced with computers. Besides, one should be able to hook one’s computer up right out of the box. Obviously they are geared to the least knowledgeable – look at the ridiculous set up diagrams provided.

Joe says:

Re: and this too

I work in tech support and 9 times out of 10 when someone doesnt have video on a new computer its because they hooked up the monitor to the onboard VGA port instead of the one on the video card. If they are too stupid to even hook it up right they shouldnt even have a computer. A monkey could follwo the instructions on the setup guide

patric (user link) says:

att can do it and get away with it

I used Bellsouth before they merged and it was a freaking nightmare in order to just get to talk to a person. then usually once you got to talk to a person, the operator as short and extremely rude. ATT is now big enough that if you want to use certain services, you have to use them (cant use iphone on other services). They know they have you by the balls and will squeeze every cent they can out of you to offset the bottom line.

Matthew says:

Sounds like United airlines.

Sounds a bit like United airlines wanting to charge passengers extra if they don’t want their baggage arriving last.,0,6673281.story

This is what you can expect when you want a completely uncontrolled free market. The companies do pretty much as they please, and if that doesn’t suit you, tough luck.

Matthew says:

What if...

everyone paid to jump ahead of the queue and they all ended up in the same order they were in before? If 10 people were in queue and each paid $10 to jump to the front, then ATT makes 100 quick bucks and everyone is still waiting for the others to get their business done.

That or there’s a call center in rural USA full of bored, high school kids that can snicker everytime they get a call knowing some dolt paid money to interrupt his/her online comic reading.

Yeah, that deserves a patent 😛

DB says:

The E-LOAN story was incorrect from the start; call center staff and loan consultants were always located in the United States, with the majority at corporate HQ in Pleasanton, CA.

What they did in March of 2004 was, as part of their home equity division, allow customers to choose whether or not they would permit their personal information and documents to be processed, post-phone or post-internet application, on the backend by an offshore contractor or in-house by E-LOAN’s own staff. Offshore worked 24 hours and offered a faster turnaround, while Pleasanton remained a 9 – 5, weekday-only affair. Regardless of where the loan was processed, the loan consultant and customer contact person was always an in-house, onshore and direct employee of E-LOAN.

Fat lot of good it did them; they’ve stopped doing all loans, laid off 99 percent of staff and will wind down operations by the end of 1Q 09.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...