Klausner Continues To Sue Everyone Over Visual Voicemail Patent

from the this-is-innovation? dept

You may recall stories involving a small patent holding firm called Klausner Technologies, which claims to hold patents on the concept of “visual voicemail.” It seems to have interpreted these patents pretty broadly to the point that it considers anyone who offers any graphical interface to voicemail as infringing. Over the years, that’s meant lawsuits against AOL, Vonage, Apple, eBay, AT&T and others. Apparently, suing one by one was too much trouble, because Klausner has now sued another bunch of companies including Google, Verizon and Embarq. Of course, the company is playing up the fact that all those other companies it sued settled, but we’ve seen that game before. There’s not much new here as this scenario is all too common. We have a company with an overly broad patent on a concept that was a natural obvious progression of the art, suing pretty much every company that actually innovates, thus making actual innovation more expensive.

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Companies: embarq, google, klausner, lg, verizon

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Comments on “Klausner Continues To Sue Everyone Over Visual Voicemail Patent”

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Brett says:

You have got to be kidding me. You think obvious patents help innovation? They hinder it and make companies pay money out to some lame company that decided to make a very broad patent and sue everyone possible to make money.

They are not making anything new themselves, they make their money suing.

The US patent system is screwed up beyond belief. Quick go make some general patents and go see who you can sue as well.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Concrete Response.

Let’s try to be more concrete about how visual voicemail is obvious. I have a copy of a graphical file browser (binaries and manual), dated 1988. This is ProFinder, which was an accessory to Wordstar 5. ProFinder could handle arbitrary file types, selecting the appropriate viewer software for each. It had an “extensions” file, in a dialect of the MS-DOS batch command language. This dialect allowed multiple batch files to be embedded in a single ProFinder command file, and provided a system of variables to pass filenames, etc. into the batch files. You could assign a different script to each file extension, and then, within that script, you could insert commands to run an appropriate program or programs. ProFinder also supported a “titles” field, where you could write and afterwards view a short text description of a file, in addition to the name, date, time, and file size.

ProFinder is one of a type of kindred programs, collectively known as “DOS Shells,” which were popular at the time. ProFinder is not a “true shell,” because it was not invoked from the “config.sys” file. These shells were collectively more or less derivative of the Mackintosh File Finder, but they had various additional tricks.

I have a sequence of catalogs from PC-SIG, a major shareware distributor of the time, These grew to the point where they were substantial bound volumes, and PC-SIG was not guilty of undue boastfulness when it stated to call them “encyclopedias.” The first “Encyclopedia” dates from 1988-89. It does not bear a copyright date, but I can date it by reference to other volumes in the series. Disk numbers up to #1124 are cited in a volume dated 1988. In this encyclopedia, I find a section devoted to DOS shells. Apart from various graphical point-and-shoot shells, I also find IDC Shell/NARC, a shell-like program for manipulating the constituent parts of an archive file. This reference teaches the extension of the capabilities of a DOS shell to a program operating on records within a file.

“A person of normal creativity” would naturally have gone through the relevant sections (DOS Shells, Disk Utilities, Hard Disk Utilities) of the PC-SIG Encyclopedia, making a laundry list of the distinctive features of programs which did approximately the same thing, and actually running programs whose capabilities he did not understand from the catalog listing, and finally building a program having all the features. One might call this “design by comparison shopping.” That said, given a file or data type, and a means of viewing files or data of such type, it is immediately obvious to hook them together into a graphical browser.

(It is also worth looking at approximately contemporary Public Brand Software catalogs. They tended to incorporate a lot of screenshots of programs.)

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Visual Mail and Video Mail.

Well, the patents do not relate to video voicemail, but to _visual_ voicemails, that is, to handling voicemails the same way that one handles every other piece of data, such as e-mails or files. We don’t use the term “visual” anymore, because nowadays, nearly everything is visual. On the contrary, we use “command line” for the increasingly rare exceptions. As I have noted, there were programs being sold, well before the patent date, which could handle any kind of data visually, without needing to know what kind of it was. All that was necessary was for each kind of data to have a unique name.

In the late 1980’s we had terminal programs, such as ProComm (v. 2.4, 1986). At that date, we did not have the internet. We did have Bulletin Board Sites (BBS’s), each with its own telephone number. The result was that the “dialing directory” performed much of the function of the modern bookmarks file. ProComm had a visual dialing directory screen, with different entries listed by name, telephone number, modem settings (bit rate, parity, stop bits, echoing, 7 or 8 bit ASCII), and the name of a ProComm command file associated with that BBS. One used the PgUp and PgDn keys to scroll through the list. ProComm had a “logging function,” that is, push a key, and it would automatically record every byte transmitted by the remote machine to a file. ProComm did not have “point-and-shoot” capability, because mouses were still only used in Macintosh computers. ProComm would display a list of options, numbered, say, 1-10 and you would enter the number of the item you wanted. That was faster than repeatedly pushing the arrow keys. ProComm was a program which could essentially do whatever the underlying hardware, the modem, was capable of.

The modem generally did not have the ability to digitize voice signals from the telephone line. Of course, this was at a time when a floppy disk held either 360 kilobytes or 1.2 megabytes, and such capabilities would have been fairly pointless. About that time, I bought a little box at Radio Shack which enabled a tape recorder to be plugged into the telephone line, so that one could record telephone interviews.

As for video voicemail, you can do much better, actually, if you look at old science fiction. Science fiction, from 1940, or from 1960, or from 1980, is full of detailed user-level descriptions of internet-class technology, ie. push this button to record, push that button to send, etc. Implementations of the basic underlying capabilities– things like video cameras– had been developed to a serviceable consumer-good level by 1985, though not of course to the levels they would subsequently reach. Further, by 1985, there was a public recognition that all information is potentially computer data, and that all electronic devices could be replaced by computers and data networks, and there were all of these elegant systems for handling information in general, information in the abstract, as it were. By 1985, the question of implementation of the capabilities described in old science fiction had become purely an economic question, one of how much basic computer components cost, of how big, how fast, and how cheap chips were.

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