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Intel Patents the "Digital Browser Phone" 170

Posted by kdawson
from the move-over-skype-yahoo-and-google dept.
tibbar66 writes, "This sounds like an invention that has been invented many times before (e.g. Skype). Yet on October 10, 2006 Intel was granted a patent for a 'digital browser phone.' The patent was filed on Feb. 25, 2000. Here's the abstract: 'A telephone system wherein all the functions of a digital telephone can be accessed and implemented on a personal computer alone, thereby eliminating the need for a telephone set. By means of the computer display and mouse, keyboard or other input/output command devices, a user accesses and implement all digital telephone functions without the physical telephone set, the personal computer also providing the audio function. A graphical representation of a telephone set or other telephone-related form is provided on the computer display and accessed by the mouse, keyboard or other command device, this being accomplished by a computer program providing graphical interface implementation. A significant advantage of the system is computer access to and utilization of digital telephone functions from a remote location with communication via Internet, LAN, WAN, RAS or other mediums.'"
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Intel Patents the "Digital Browser Phone"

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  • Actually it's Intel (Score:5, Informative)

    by grimmy (75458) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @08:13AM (#16903500) Homepage
    If the submitter RTFP they would have seen that it was Intel, not M$.
    • by kripkenstein (913150) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @08:35AM (#16903598) Homepage
      If the submitter RTFP they would have seen that it was Intel, not M$.

      Indeed. But if the patent office doesn't read the proposals, why should the Slashdot submitter? (Granted, the other option is that the patent office did read the proposal, but the patent office worker was so ignorant it sounded like a new idea to him/her.)

      Currently there are so many variations on this theme already in existence (Skype, Jajah, even Ekiga etc., in a sense), that it boggles the mind such a patent was granted. Yet, TFP says that the filing date was "February 25, 2000". How many of those were around circa 2000? Skype only began around 2002-2003 IIRC...
      • by Splab (574204)
        Patent was filed in 2000 - thats way before Skype came to existance.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mqduck (232646)
        Indeed. But if the patent office doesn't read the proposals, why should the Slashdot submitter? (Granted, the other option is that the patent office did read the proposal, but the patent office worker was so ignorant it sounded like a new idea to him/her.)


        I'm not proposing any theories here, but I do think you may be in danger of assuming incompetence where there's corruption.
      • PGPfone was around way before 2000.
      • by udippel (562132)
        Feb. 26, 1999
        is the priority date. So, forget 2000. What is needed is prior art, published, yes, on or before Feb. 25, 1999.
      • the filing date was "February 25, 2000". How many of those were around circa 2000? Skype only began around 2002-2003

        Speak-Freely [sourceforge.net] - a unix and windows VoIP software, is the sourceforge continuation of a project at Fourmilab (speak-freely.org) [archive.org] which is developpement of code released on UseNet during 1991.
        PGPfone [pgpi.org] - was released in 1995 [wikipedia.org].
        Microsoft's own NetMeeting [wikipedia.org] was a late comer, being only available with Windows 95 OSR 2 (circa 1997).
        Roger Wilco [gamespy.com] - not the Space Quest caracter [wikipedia.org], but a VoIP software specialized

        • by lscoughlin (71054)
          Dialpad.com ( which is now a yahoo company ) was registered on Tue, Feb 16, 1999 -- and i'm pretty sure I remember using it back then for well, pretty much everything that's described in the patent. I'm also fairly certain that the tech wasn't particularly new.
      • by kbahey (102895)
        I used Media Ring [mediaring.com] as early as May 1999. They were the Skype of that time.

  • by Maltese Falcon (11786) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @08:13AM (#16903502)
    As well as countless others, as M$ tries to rewite history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VocalTec_Internet_Pho ne [wikipedia.org]
  • Skype ?

    Or any SIP or H323 application that predates Skype ?

    Isn't it time for Americans to revolt agains the patent crazyness ?
  • by Zuul (103907)
    From TFA:

    Assignee: Intel Corporation (Santa Clara, CA)

    So what happened to actually reading the submission before posting them on ./?

    Also Skype is from 2002 [wikipedia.org] and the patent was filed in 2000, so that makes for a poor prior art.
    • by Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @08:45AM (#16903642) Homepage
      So we get a Slashdot post about the USPTO not looking at the patent application properly, where the poster (or /. editor) did not look at it either. My brain hurts.

      Whatever, as someone else here said, Vocaltec [vocaltec.com] started the ball rolling back in 1995. Maybe they only patented in Israel, not the US, but that won't help Intel here.
      • The 840AV had a fully functional software phone and answering machine. It worked great and was to market in 1993. Read about it in Byte: http://www.byte.com/art/9401/sec9/art5.htm [byte.com] The Quadra 840AV's DSP uses a real-time operating system that can perform several signal-processing tasks simultaneously. One such task is the sound preprocessing for PlainTalk. Other programmed functions that the DSP can handle are telephony, modem, and fax operations. A bundled Telephone application lets the Quadra act as a p
        • but you'll need lots of hard disk space to record digitized messages.
          Now that dates it, in so many ways. I had a 270MB Disc around then, the only partition I have nowadays which would fit on that is /boot (and '/', although it is larger for emergencies).

          Who the hell thought anyone wanted to save all that digitized speech anyway, the NSA? It would be illegal here (Germany) for privacy reasons.
        • by dfghjk (711126)
          If you had bothered to read the claims in the patent, you'd realize that the Apple machine you referenced does none of those things. Apple wasn't "selling this in 1993".

          The Byte article was interesting, though, for showing just how lame Apple machines were in those times. It was 1994 and macs were just getting SCSI DMA? Apple integrates a DSP that isn't fast enough to emulate (then) current modem standards? It's no wonder their business went down the drain.
    • by joebp (528430)
      So what happened to actually reading the submission before posting them on ./?
      You know who I blame for this?! Microsoft!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    In star trek the next generation '87-'94. Does that count as prior art? No pun intended.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by bfree (113420)
      The fscking phone itself should count as prior art! Perhaps, just perhaps (I'm not willing to go near it to find out) there is something in this patent which is new and non-obvious (from slashdot alone I'd say not but I know better then to believe anything on here). Odds are however that this is little more then a description of re-implementing a regular telephone with digital circuitry. For some reason the USPTO seems to think that doing $anything "on a computer" is patentable in of itself no matter
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Teppic_52 (982950)
      Dunno, but I do have prior art, and unlike most of Intels patents it's not just a loose description, but real software!
      I have a cd that came with a serial modem containing software that fits the description of the patent, and the copyright notice is 1999. When I took a look into the manual it was the Feb 1999 edition, and the 'last modified' date of installer on the disk is 3.3.1998.
      • by udippel (562132)
        Fine, so. Read the f***** claims: TCP/IP over PBX. Your serial modem doesn't cut it. You send anything (graphics, claim !) over TCP/IP ? I guess not. I rather assume the signals are synchronous phone signals.
    • Not prior art because Star Trek happens in the future.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 19, 2006 @08:26AM (#16903564)
    I was with the patent requestors technically until "A preferred program is commercially available from Microsoft Corporation and known as ActiveX control. ActiveX control enables one to develop sophisticated controls...". Now I realize this was some kind of joke.
  • by hulkio (1029288) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @08:37AM (#16903604)
    Seems to me that the USPTO is slowly but surely loosing its meaning. I mean, there was so much prior art on this one, how could they even consider the application in the first place? The more they accept these kind of patents, the less they serve their purpose. Their mission (from their site):
    USPTO encourages technological advancement by providing incentives to invent, invest in, and disclose new technology worldwide
    . Seems to me that their mission is more like:
    USPTO encourages its own financial advancement and the proliferation of unproductive patent law firms by providing incentives to create legal ammo for the big corporations that can afford the insanly expensive process of filing a patent
    . Oh well, we will just have to produce and sell our nice new inventions from China where they could not care less about respecting and enforcing all that nonsense.
    • I can't remember the original quote, it went something like this: everyone in life has a purpose, even if its to serve as a bad example. This is the purpose of the USPTO, to show us Europeans how not to do it. Of course we have special interest groups (patent lawyers, some large companies) who would like this but the USPTO is an excellent 'bad example'. It is a pity they can't patent themselves to stop imitations.
      • by DerGeist (956018)
        You're thinking of a Demotivational poster from Despair.com [despair.com].

        It's entitled "Mistakes" [despair.com] and says:

        It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.
    • Have you read the claims? If not you have no idea whether or not there is anything new in this patent.
    • by slughead (592713)
      USPTO encourages its own financial advancement and the proliferation of unproductive patent law firms by providing incentives to create legal ammo for the big corporations that can afford the insanly expensive process of filing a patent

      It's cheap to file a patent.

      The reason you file one is so that way, when you find someone has violated your patent, you SUE them and use your patent documents as slam-dunk evidence in court (provided that it predates THEIR patent and adequately describes the device THEY creat
    • by SpacePunk (17960)
      As far as the USPTO is concerned, prior art only exists within it's library of existing patents.
  • This story is just another reason to hate patents. If the iPod's clickwheel could be used by other manufacturers, than everybody and Apple would need to offer -more- and thus, innovate, to make sure they keep their customers and sell their devices. (ok. maybe it's not the patent themselves the problem, but how long they are enforced. I feel 2 to 5 years should be enough...) Same for this MS patent which sound a little too much obvious technology to me.

    And the off-topic part, Apple came up with an interesting yet-another-patent one for a configurable input system (patent screenshots included) [macrumors.com]. In short: "The concept is based around adding physical/tactile controls over a touch-sensitive pad. By having such a modular system, an iPod or laptop could become even more multi-functional." As much as this patent is interesting and could help transform computers into something more versatile and useful, it's still a patent which impedes anyone else using the idea at the commercial level.
    • by vhogemann (797994)
      I have tho disagree with you,

      The iPod clickwheel was a true innovation, that no one has come with before. So my opinion is that it was a valid and fair patent.

      On the other side, this Apple's new patent application just defines a particular use for an touchscreen... something that has been around for ages.
      • "I have tho disagree with you, The iPod clickwheel was a true innovation, that no one has come with before. So my opinion is that it was a valid and fair patent."

        ?? My point was that patent are, as implemented right now, impeding innovation instead of encouraging it. In the actual system, yes, the clickwheel is a valid and fair patent. I see no disagreement anywhere.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MadEE (784327)
      As much as this patent is interesting and could help transform computers into something more versatile and useful, it's still a patent which impedes anyone else using the idea at the commercial level.
      I am all for patent reform but... Isn't that the whole point of patents?
      • by Tim C (15259)
        Isn't that the whole point of patents?

        No, patents are supposed to encourage investment in research and development by granting a limited-time monopoly, thus aiding the patentor in recouping their investment and making a profit. They are also supposed to ensure that knowledge becomes public, as the patent is supposed to go into enough detail that a skilled practitioner in the relevant field could reproduce the subject of the patent.

        Preventing others from using the subject of the patent in their own products/
        • by MadEE (784327)

          Preventing others from using the subject of the patent in their own products/processes is a consequence of the implementation of the first aim; it is not the sole aim of patents.

          If the owner of the patent markets a product that uses the features described in the patent the R&D costs are recouped though the sale of the product. Preventing others from using the subject of the patent for it's term is the prerogative of the owner of the patent. Is there really much difference between refusing to license

    • by Angostura (703910)
      If the iPod's clickwheel could be used by other manufacturers, than everybody and Apple would need to offer -more- and thus, innovate, to make sure they keep their customers and sell their devices


      Alternatively: If the iPod's clickwheel could be used by other manufacturers, than Apple wouldn't have bothered with the R&D required to come up with it, since the ROI would have been negative
  • openh323 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The open h323 project was started in 1998 and had a soft phone by 2000. This should count as prior art. http://www.openh323.org/fom-serve/cache/3.html [openh323.org]

    It also stinks that they get to sit on it for 6 years from date of filing. Patents used to be valid for 20 years from date of filing, now a company can sit on it, tweek it, and get 17 years from date of issue (AFIK).

    • Patents used to be valid for 20 years from date of filing, now a company can sit on it, tweek it, and get 17 years from date of issue (AFIK).

      It's the other way round: Patents used to be valid for 17 years from date of issue (allowing 'submarine' patents). Since 1995, they are valid for 20 years from date of filing.

      That's a broad summary of the situation; for the details see a law site, e.g. here [bpmlegal.com].

  • Prior art? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gstovall (22014) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @09:00AM (#16903708) Homepage
    Heh? In 1994, we were already buying commercial softphone applications for PC to PC telephony. In 1995, we had the ability to click a button on a web browser and launch a voice session with a customer service rep in an ACD pool. In 1996, we demonstrated a macintosh running voip software connected to a gateway that put the voice session out on an ISUP trunk to an M-1 PBX. I'm having difficulty understanding the originality of a 2000 filing on this subject.
  • 1973 invention (Score:2, Informative)

    by trboyden (465969)
    Regardless of whether M$ or Intel are the grantees of this bogus patent. VoIP and by extension a digital phone set via PC were invented by Danny Cohen in 1973 via an ARPA sponsored project involving the predecessor to VoIP - Network Voice Protocol (NVP). Read more on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]. In addition to this prior art, Cisco would probably have some disagreement with the validity of this patent as well [cisco.com] with their Personal Communicator Application.
  • Are the people at the USPTO on drugs or do they just have their heads up their corn holes?
  • Easy out of this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @09:14AM (#16903752) Journal
    in ~1995, I was working at Bell Labs/Lucent on the velociraptor project. Part of that WAS the desktop system as described.

    Man, I swear that gov has fallen apart over the last 5 years. Patents as screwy as this show either an actual attempt by the gov. to hire idiots (hard to believe considering the economy of the last 6 years), that it is purposely trying to allow BS patents to major companies (conspiracy theorists unite), or that it is being severely underfunded( Bingo ) .
  • Okay, patent application submitted 2000. I distinctly recall my human-computer interaction class in *1997* wherein one assignment was to create a phone interface. This was an undergraduate class, and the topic didn't seem all that revolutionary even then.

    Surely, a patent that deserves to be dismissed.

    sloth jr
  • i propose overthrowing the government. it will benefit just about every other company. surely people like song/panasonic etc must be thinking the same
  • by dilute (74234) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @09:51AM (#16903954)
    For a community so up in arms about patents, the level of ignorance here about patents is astounding.

    What a patent actually COVERS is what is in the CLAIMS. The abstract means NOTHING. Here is the text of the three principal claims of this patent:

    1. An apparatus, comprising: an interface to connect to a synchronous digital link and to send and receive digital signals to and from a telephone switch over the synchronous digital link; a controller to generate graphical display information and events based on the digital signals received over the interface; and logic to communicate over an asynchronous digital link, to convert the digital signals to an asynchronous format, and to transmit the digital signals and the graphical display information and events over the asynchronous digital link, wherein the logic is arranged to receive key press and hook state commands over the asynchronous digital link.

    3. A method, comprising: receiving digital data from a public branch exchange (PBX) over a synchronous digital communication link; generating graphical display information and events based on the received digital data; transmitting the graphical display information and events over an asynchronous Internet protocol (IP) link; receiving a key press and hook state command over the asynchronous Internet protocol (IP) link; translating the key press and hook state command to a different format; and transmitting the translated key press and hook state command to the PBX over the synchronous digital communication link.

    6. A computer readable medium including instructions that, when executed, cause a computer to: convert received light events and display updates to a graphical format; cause a first display device to display a digital telephone including the light events and display updates; convert received input device data that is related to the displayed digital telephone into a packetized format, wherein the input device data includes a key press and hook state commands over asynchronous Internet protocol (IP) link; and transmit the packetized input device data over the asynchronous Internet protocol (IP) link.

    Also, the patent was based on an earlier application filed on February 25, 1999. For most purposes, the date against which to shoot with any invalidating prior art would have to be Feb. 25, 1998 or earlier. Having to go back these two additional years makes it much harder to shoot down this patent than it would be if the relevant time frame was 2000, as implied by the lead post.

    I don't know if the patent is valid or not, but it certainly has a lot more merit than suggested.

    Plus, as has been pointed out above, the patent owner was Intel, not the hated Microsoft.

    But, after all, this is Slashdot, so why be burdened by any actual facts?

    • by udippel (562132)
      Fantastic !
      Thanks for pointing out a lot of reasonable items. (to the unwashed masses of /.)
      One thing, though, I can't follow your logic of going back two years. Priority is claimed for February 26, 1999. Where do you get the other one year from ?
    • Dialgoic, before being purchased by Intel, used to have a program of trying to acquire or patent computer telephony applications in such a way that no one could put a crimp on Computer Telephony based patents in general. [I believe this started after someone patented something involving computer telephone and went after Dialogic's customers who were creating and providing computer telephony solutions. In order to protect their market, Dialogic became involved. If anyone can confirm or deny this history, I'd
    • You are right that it is the claims that matter. In the case, the claims appear to cover a case where the softphone sends key presses and hook-state to a PBX. It seems like a pretty narrow claim since SIP softphones and IP PBXs don't do that. It would be a rather oddball system that was implemented in a way that infringed.

      That said, the oddball nature of the claims is also pretty retro. PBX phones worked this way when 8 bit CPUs were hot stuff, and you wanted to minimize what was going on in the phone. It i
    • by bit01 (644603)

      The abstract means NOTHING.

      Gosh, you mean the patent office doesn't make sure that the abstract represents an actual, I don't know, abstract of the significant points of the patent? Their incompetence knows no bounds.

      This is getting so bad that I'm starting to think that it's not incompetence but corruption. With the amount of money involved, the ambiguity and the lack of accountability it would not be at all surprising.

      But, after all, this is Slashdot, so why be burdened by any actual facts?

      Don

  • by rswail (410017) on Sunday November 19, 2006 @09:57AM (#16903994)

    Only the claims have any real standing when testing a patent... the first claim is for:

    An apparatus, comprising: an interface to connect to a synchronous digital link and to send and receive digital signals to and from a telephone switch over the synchronous digital link; a controller to generate graphical display information and events based on the digital signals received over the interface; and logic to communicate over an asynchronous digital link, to convert the digital signals to an asynchronous format, and to transmit the digital signals and the graphical display information and events over the asynchronous digital link, wherein the logic is arranged to receive key press and hook state commands over the asynchronous digital link.

    So this patent only covers an interface that communicates over a synchronous digital link, ie, ye old PBX. It doesn't cover any of the VoIP/SIP/RTP solutions. The first claim is too broad, in that PBX's have had this sort of controller/logic etc, so the subsequent claims come into play.

    Claim 3 talks about receiving digital data from a public branch exchange (PBX) over a synchronous digital communication link; so it's talking about POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), admittedly over the newer digital circuits. Again, not VoIP/SIP/RTP.

    Claim 6 talks about a "medium" wherein the input device data includes a key press and hook state commands over asynchronous Internet protocol (IP) link;. So if you're not sending the equivalent of key presses and on/off hook states over the IP link, again, you're outside the bounds of the patent.

    • by Arimus (198136)
      I know of one or two military based comm's systems which send pressel indication over the voice stream as either in-band or out of band signals. Some of these signals can depending on the network topology be sent in IP based datastreams.
    • by udippel (562132)
      True, and thanks for pointing a few things out.
      One thing, though, is IMHO overdone:

      So if you're not sending the equivalent of key presses and on/off hook states over the IP link, again, you're outside the bounds of the patent.

      Now think hard and tell me - for a system with TCP/IP in between - how to start-stop the communication (that is logon-logoff) if not by a key press / mouse click ?

    • Dilogic has had sychronous cards out since at least 1995. I'll bet that Asterix will support sychronous.

      This illustrates again what is wrong with the USPTO and software patents in general.
    • by plopez (54068)
      Back in '95 we were using auto-dialers hooked up to digital switches to send pages, text messages and to dial phns. Would that be connsidered prior art?

      It was cool, you would click on an SA's name, the SA's phn number and a text message box would come up, you entered the text and sent the page. Alternately, you could just have it dial via PBX for you and call their office directly.

      Something I wish I had as I navigate through address books in my email client and then have to manually dial out via our IP ph
  • A patent abstract may contain any crap of someone's liking.

    I simply wished, that after so many reminders as dished out by myself and others, the editors finally understood (and referenced) the independent claims (or maybe the claims, if independent sounds too difficult), please ?!

    There is enough 'itsatrap' and FUD around. Let's be professional on /. and cite claims instead of crap.
  • Another patent win for Captain Obvious!
  • The Dec Rainbow machine had phone capabilities if I recall correctly.

    I think I could now patent the spoon if I worded the damned thing correctly. The USPTO should be ashamed.
  • by Metasquares (555685) <slashdotNO@SPAMmetasquared.com> on Sunday November 19, 2006 @11:32AM (#16904596) Homepage
    There used to be something called Dialpad that seems to have done just this. Googling it, it seems that it was recently acquired by Yahoo!
  • http://www.dialpad.com/ [dialpad.com] - I used them when they first came out in 1999 because of the really cheap international rates. They had a browser based phone interface which used an activex control for communications when they first started out. Definate prior art.....
  • by iCEBaLM (34905) <<icebalm> <at> <icebalm.com>> on Sunday November 19, 2006 @11:36AM (#16904640)
    Here's some prior art: dialpad in 1999 [dialpad.com].
  • to file a patent on phone dialer?
  • Well, not the Simpsons, but everyone except Microsoft has already been doing this for year. Hell, there are plenty of free VOIP programs that are freeware or open source, and have been since the '90s.

    Hey Microsoft! 1997 called and they want their prior art back!
  • I thought peer to peer (P2P, point to point, person to person, ...) computer communications was around before VTC. Also, I thought VTC was around a few years prior to VoIP.

    Well IPR laws work well for controlling market share and holding customer hostages by first claim of a technology/science/engineering term an/or phrase. More USA dejure CorporatistCommunism mislabeled as legal competitive capitalism .... It has all become very pitifully funny that marketer-spin, IPR awarded by phrase, obvious no IPR prior
  • Back in 1991 at the Interop trade show my company (Epilogue Technology) helped Simon Hackett (now of Internode in Adalaide), show "Etherphones". (Some rather nice T-shirts were made to note the event.)

    These were internet based telephones that ran using phone handsets hooked to sound cards in PC's.

    The caller would call - and of course software on the PC was involved - making a connection over UDP.

    So I would say that MS's patent claims were merely prettier versions of what was more than 6 years earlier.

    But e

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