Sprint’s Patent Marathon: Intellectual Property Analysis of Sprint Nextel Corp.
Finally! A company shows up in telecommunications patent news that isn't Apple or Google.
On December 19, 2011, Sprint Nextel presented an early Christmas present to Time Warner, Comcast, Cox Communications and Cable One when it accused these companies of infringing twelve of its Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) patents. In the complaint, they contend that the patents' now-deceased lead inventor, Joseph Christie, and some other Sprint workers were secretly inventing this technology in a room in Kansas in 1993. Presumably, no one else had ever thought of using the internet to transmit voice before then.
It's an all-to-common story. In 2005, Sprint sued Vonage for patent infringement over this same technology. Vonage defended itself by attacking Sprint’s patents. Later in 2007, a jury found that Vonage infringed six of these patents – five of which are being used now in the latest suit – and awarded Sprint with $69.5 million. Vonage then later paid Sprint $80 million to license the technology.
Now, after three of the four companies being sued by Sprint entered into agreements with Verizon Wireless just three days before the latest suits were filed, Sprint seems to be out for blood. And armed with the five infringed patents from the previous Vonage case, plus seven more VoIP patents, Sprint probably thinks it has another win in the bag.
Unfortunately, there are some deeper issues that Vonage missed in its defense. Time Warner, Comcast, Cox, and Cable One would do well to steer clear of defending against the patents’ content – i.e. don’t follow the Vonage strategy – and instead look at some of the fundamental ways in which the system perpetuates this madness in the first place.ShareThis