As Google Voice Opens For All… It's Hit With Patent Infringement Claims
from the it's-all-in-the-timing dept
I’ve used Google Voice for years — since back when it was Grand Central — and over the past few months have been ramping up how much I use it, as it really is quite useful, especially as someone who has multiple phone lines. I’ve recommended it to a few different people, and it’s nice to see that Google has finally opened it up to anyone in the US, after years of keeping it only open to legacy users (like me) or those lucky enough to get an invite. However, there’s some interesting timing here, as just as Google announced that Google Voice was open to the public, it was hit with a patent lawsuit from Frontier Communications, who just got the patent in question (7,742,468), yesterday, the same day that it sued. The patent itself basically describes some of the core functionality of Google Voice: the ability to ring multiple lines from a single number being the main one.
It’s difficult to see how there’s much of a claim here. The patent was filed for in September of 2009, but is a continuation patent (ah, that old trick again) of another patent filed on February 9, 2007. The problem? Well, in October of 2006, I attended the DEMO show with a bunch of other reporters and investors, and we all got to see GrandCentral demo its technology that does pretty much exactly what’s described in the claims in the patent. Google didn’t acquire the company until July of 2007, but it’s difficult to see how the 2006 demonstration of the technology shouldn’t be seen as prior art that invalidates the patent. Of course, it would have been nice if the patent examiner on the case had bothered to look around and find such prior art, but apparently that’s too difficult these days.
Oh, and if you want to see how continuation patents are abused, you can check out the original patent application, which focuses on something quite different than the eventual patent. It’s much more about switching calls from one line to another. It’s only in the later patent (not filed until well after Google Voice was widely established in the market), that Frontier made the patent sound a lot more like what Google Voice actually does.