back to article Meta told to pay $175m to walkie-talkie techies for infringing IP

A Texas jury this week ordered Meta Platforms to pay more than $174 million for infringing patents held by walkie-talkie techies at Voxer, who sell an iPhone app that lets you instantly send messages across the internet as you are speaking. Voxer filed the original patent case [PDF] in Austin in 2020, back when the social …

  1. usbac

    "The idea was that, in a manner reminiscent of a walkie-talkie, the recipient could begin listening seconds after an audio or video message begins, while the sender continued to talk (rather than only being heard after it is recorded and sent)."

    If only we had some means to talk to each in real time other over long distances before this innovative new patent was issued. We could have called it something like a tele-phone...

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      > the recipient could begin listening seconds after an audio or video message begins

      Dunno about you, but I wouldn't expect a walkie-talkie to operate over inter-planetary distances. I've never noticed even the slightest fraction of a second's delay here on Earth.

      -A.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      I was thinking it's more like near-live streaming, which was around before the patent was applied for.

      It does look like MetaBook infringed the patent, but the patent itself sounds dubious to me.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So many crap patents

    The US will frequently grant these howlers, and with the promise of that 175m on the table, you can bet they are going to churning out demand letters.

    We need laws to stop the USPTO from EVER granting these "We do exactly what you do with X that has existed for 50 years, BUT WITH SOFTWARE" patents. There needs to be a relatively high bar, or we get idiots patenting basic logical operators (lookin at you M$, you know what you did).

    I'm all for letting people patent things that take real R&D and add new functionality. Encoding, encryption, advanced models, and compression algos are all great examples. But implementations of trivial systems shouldn't meet that bar, and you can't have dozens of lazy creeps shaking down every company with their hands out if you want to have a healthy technology sector.

    1. VoiceOfTruth

      Re: So many crap patents

      Rounded corners on anything, which have been around since the first caveman stubbed his finger on something. Magnetic power leads, which Apple 100% copied from Japanese kettles. Etc.

    2. badflorist

      Re: So many crap patents

      "...stop the USPTO"

      No!!! At this point you just pour on it like gravy and patent anything!!! Why should MegaCorps be the only ones granted these patents... pour it on.

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: So many crap patents

      A recent patent infringement case concerning generic drugs (resulting in a $300million+ judgment) shows just how bad the USPTO has got.

      Patented drugs eventally run out of patents and become generic. In other words, cheap. However, some clever sod discovered that you could actually patent the dosing label of the proprietary drug. This is a bit of a trick because the label information is FDA approved and is mandatory for the drug type regardless of its source. So the generic becomes in violation of your patent.....and we've got 'em, down the East Texas we go and nail those suckers for everything they've got.

      If we could only spend the same level of intellectual resouces actually inventing stuff rather than raiding others'....just think, we might be able to Make America Great Again.

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: So many crap patents

        If you take the drug itself, which we can assume is inventive and totally patent worthy; and the FDA labelling regulations which have been around for ages; then surely applying those regulations to the drug in question is "obvious"?

  3. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Meta rogered by walkie-talkie techies for infringing IP

    C'mon ElReg, you're slipping with the punchy headlines.

    Over and Out.

  4. DS999 Silver badge

    I'm no fan of Meta

    But this 'patent' is a travesty. Yet another of the "X but on a computer" or "Y but on the internet" or "Z but on a smartphone" type of patents.

    What's worse is that this technology already existed on phones - the primary claim to claim for Nextel in the US was phones with "push to talk" technology, which was all the rage with the sort of people who were on the phones all the time like realtors and general contractors. For a few years you couldn't be in a public place like a bar or sporting event without hearing that annoying Nextel squawk every minute or two. Not sure if it ever caught on outside the US to such an extent. Thank god Apple and Android chose not to build in this "feature"!

    Other than "Q but in an app" it is ridiculous they can patent this when it was actively used on (not so smart) phones 20 years ago.

    1. captain veg Silver badge

      Re: I'm no fan of Meta

      The article claims* that the plaintiff shared details of the tech with Farcebook, and then they copied it.

      While not surprising, such alleged behaviour on the part of the rapacious parasite would definitely be evil.

      As for "push to talk" over cellular networks, this is something that I read about in el reg back in the day, but I'm not aware that we ever had it in Europe. Thank Bob.

      -A.

      * More or less.

  5. captain veg Silver badge

    video?

    "in a manner reminiscent of a walkie-talkie, the recipient could begin listening seconds after an audio or video message begins"

    I dare say that they exist, but I've never seen one of these video walkie-talkies thingies. Hypothetically, they are poorly named. I suggest walkie-webcams.

    -A.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: video?

      "I suggest walkie-webcams."

      Veloci-vid?

      Pedo-peeper?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: video?

        "Pedo-peeper?"

        I'm guessing that;s the cause of the downvote? For clarification, I'm using the ped- root for walk and deliberately didn't put the "e" in ie paedo-peeper, which would have an entirely different meaning. On the other hand, IIRC the USA spells pedophile rather than the English spelling of paedophile so may have lead to some confusion or knee-jerks if the downvoter is America.

        1. captain veg Silver badge

          Re: video?

          Perambulatory-peeper might work.

          -A.

  6. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Dubious at first blush, but...

    It's far from clear to me that this is a "just like we've been doing, but with software" patent. Take the phone system. Originally, you DID have to wait for the other party to stop talking. Then, they create the four-wire system, so you got full duplex. In analogue. Those analogue signals got stacked into a T1, and those T1s into a T3. It was a COMPLETELY different network than the Internet, and, "hey, why don't we do here what they do there" was not something that could be whipped up over a weekend. If it could, believe me, it would have been done.

    It really depends on what the details of the claim boil down to. If its, "Hey lets put some control software across, not a TCP connection, but a PAIR of UDPs", then yes. This fails "obviousness", and should never have been granted. But there is a reason that the original systems did not support full duplex, and whatever it was, that implies that there was real IP involved in implementing it. It may well be that this one is legit.

    1. Falmari Silver badge

      Re: Dubious at first blush, but...

      @Claptrap314 "It really depends on what the details of the claim boil down to."

      There is a link to the outcome of a similar patent action in the UK where Facebook were found to have not infringed Voxer's patent. https://jakemp.com/en/news/facebook-succeed-in-invalidating-voxers-live-broadcast-patent-in-the-uk/

      But the court went further they judged the details of the claim to be obvious and therefore invalid.

      "After consideration of the claims and potential equivalents, the court concluded that the patent was not infringed by any of these live broadcast features. Regardless of this, after considering the available prior art, the court further concluded that the claims were obvious and therefore invalid."

      But it seems in the Texas court did not see the same claims as obvious.

    2. usbac

      Re: Dubious at first blush, but...

      The regular POTS telephone lines do full duplex over a single copper pair. I don't remember ever seeing a system that required four wires (two pairs) for full duplex. Granted, I only know telephone technology back to the early 70's.

      1. shd

        Re: Dubious at first blush, but...

        Four-wire phone systems certainly existed (may still do) for special purposes - used internally at BT, I believe, and also for some very special phone systems in interesting places. We used to make 4-wire phones by buying a standard Tribune, stripping out the guts and replacing it with a board of our own design. Did a small telephone exchange for them, as well.

  7. OldCrow 1975

    Isn't infringing on IP. IP Theft?

    What Facebook stealing Intellectual Property.

    Maybe there needs to be some discovery to find out whose Intelectual Property is in possession of illegally. Could this be the reason Facebook changed their name to Meta?

  8. IGotOut Silver badge

    Eh?

    Haven't they pretty much described what SIP was designed for?

    Unicast. Check.

    Multicast. Check.

    Messaging. Check

    Maybe I'm missing a nuance, but everything I can see I was doing before long before this patent.

  9. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Prior art?

    I spent more time than necessary looking for any online technology reference that might mention the exciting "new" "push to talk" technology earlier than 2006, until I thought of searching the archive of "The Register". Bingo. Earliest found:

    https://www.theregister.com/2004/03/17/nokia_goes_it_alone/

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