Apple’s FaceTime must have some sort of gigantic bulls-eye on its back because companies have come out of the woodwork to sue the Cupertino company over its voice-over-IP (VoIP) service’s alleged patent infringement. Unfortunately for Apple, its legal woes continue with a new lawsuit filed in federal district court in California.
According to the complaint, Straight Path Group, a subsidiary belonging to leasing firm Straight Path Communications, accuses Apple of violating five of its patents: U.S. Patent Nos. 6,009,469, 6,108,704, 6,131,121, 6,701,365, and 7,149,208. Each of the five patents have claims dating back to September 25, 1995, and were owned and used by the NetSpeak Corporation in its WebPhone product. Interestingly, the patents have been re-examined and validated by the Patent Trial and Appeals Board (PTAB).
Overall, the patents deal with connecting two devices with each other on a network that neither device is permanently connected to. To use an example, device 1 wants to make a call to device 2 and opens a VoIP application to do so. That app sends the IP address to a server, which then takes the information and displays device 1 as online. The same method is used to determine whether device 2 is online. If it is, device 2’s IP address is sent to device 1 through the server, with device 1 then able to send a request to communicate with device 2. If any device logs off, the database is updated to include its latest status, which will be set to offline when not logged in.
Straight Path accuses Apple of patent infringement because Apple tracks users’ IP addresses through Apple Push Network services and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) technology. Secondly, Straight Path believes that FaceTime’s hardware integration with devices like the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and the Mac infringes on technology the WebPhone implemented 20 years ago.
During the mid-1990s, the WebPhone sort of existed as a precursor to the Skypes and FaceTimes of today. However, NetSpeak merged with Adir Technologies in 2001, and the merged companies liquidated all of their assets to Net2Phone in 2003. In other words, the WebPhone has not been around for over a decade, making this case smell like one filed by a patent troll, a party that may have legal ownership of a patent, but demonstrates no current or likely future commercial use of it.
Straight Path did not specify how much it wants in damages related to the five allegedly infringed patents. Straight Path initially issued its complaint back in 2014, but because it was dismissed without prejudice to re-filing in 2015, Straight Path had the right to re-file, which is why we are here today.
As alluded to earlier, VoIP-Pal and VirtnetX, who may also be fairly characterized as patent trolls, have sued Apple over possible patent infringement regarding FaceTime. VirtnetX won its case against the Cupertino company and demanded that Apple shut down FaceTime and iMessage, though Apple requested a retrial.