Apple's FaceTime subject of renewed VoIP patent infringement lawsuit

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Apple on Friday was slapped with yet another patent lawsuit leveled by a non-practicing entity, this time a renewed complaint dealing with VoIP technologies targeting FaceTime video and audio software.

In a lawsuit lodged with the Northern California District Court, Straight Path Group, a subsidiary of fixed wireless spectrum leasing firm Straight Path Communications, alleges Apple's FaceTime infringes on five patents previously owned by the NetSpeak Corporation relating to a product called WebPhone. The complaint is a renewal of Straight Path's 2014 case, which was dismissed without prejudice in 2015.

The properties in part cover realtime video and audio conferencing, as well as point-to-point communications between devices or applications with dynamic IP addresses. In particular, Straight Path is leveraging U.S. Patent Nos. 6,009,469, 6,108,704, 6,131,121, 6,701,365 and 7,149,208, each with claims dating back to 1995. Interestingly, each of the patents also survived re-examination by the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB) after facing challenges to their validity.

Straight Path asserts the owned properties solve a fundamental problem that arises when attempting to establish communication links between two computer programs, or alternatively individual devices, that are not permanently connected to a network. Specifically, the patents provide methods of determining whether a program is on a network, identifying that program's IP address and ultimately establishing point-to-point communication sessions with a second program.

As described in various patent embodiments, a first user might open a VoIP app to place a call to a second user. When that program connects to the internet, it transmits its current IP address to an offsite server, which simultaneously logs that IP information and marks the first app as "online." The server determines whether the second user is also online using the same method. If the second user is marked as "online," the server forwards their IP address information to the first user, who can then send a request to communicate. Importantly, when a user logs off, the database is updated to reflect their current status.

Apple infringes on the protected patents by using Apple Push Network services and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) technology to track user IP addresses and facilitate point-to-point communications via FaceTime, the complaint says. Further, Straight Path claims FaceTime hardware integration with iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac are in infringement of technology implemented in WebPhone some 20 years ago.

According to the document, NetSpeak's WebPhone was selected as an "Editor's Choice" by both PC Magazine and Computer Telephony Magazine, and "Product of the Year" by Internet Telephony magazine, in the mid-1990s. Despite these accolades, NetSpeak ceased to exist in 2001 after a merger with Adir Technologies, which itself liquidated all assets to Net2Phone in 2003.

Straight Path seeks unspecified damages related to all five patents-in-suit, reimbursement of legal expenses and other relief deemed fit by the court.

Today's suit is the second to target FaceTime this month, the first being a complaint filed with the patent holder-friendly Eastern Texas District Court by Uniloc.


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