VoIP Patents: Innovation—and Lawsuits

New patents scored by Nokia, IBM, and others should revolutionize Internet-calling, and breed legal battles for control of that red-hot market

The Patent & Trademark Office is approving patents aplenty for Internet-based calling. On Nov. 14 alone, it handed out a patent on what IBM calls a "conversations computing system," and granted chipmaker Intel a patent for a computer-based phone "eliminating the need for a telephone set."

Chipmaker Intel () has received a handful of VoIP-related patents recently. At first glance, a push into VoIP may seem odd for a company that recently threw in the towel on another communications business when it sold a wireless-chip operation to Marvell () (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/06/06, "Intel Digs Out From a Pile of Chips"). But in order to revive growth and fend off accelerating competition from Advanced Micro Devices (), Intel needs to integrate new capabilities into its own semiconductors. Why not weave in Web calling? Chances are, many patent battles will be fought outside the courtroom. Patent holders are likely to use their intellectual property portfolio to extract concessions on cross-licensing deals, where one company may share its VoIP expertise in exchange for use of another company's patented technology, says VoIP expert Jeff Pulver. "It's certainly going to be something somebody could use against somebody."

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