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Re: [hylafax-users] Problem on the Patent Front
Bill Binko wrote:
Basically, J2 Communications (the eFax people) are suing a bunch of
competitors using a patent on "Fax over Email" and several related topics.
The competitors use Open Source software (including Hylafax it seems) and
I think this may be a real risk.
The article is important enough that at least the core developers should
really look at it and see a) if they need to be concerned and b) if there
is prior art that they can provide.
The abstract on this patent indicates that there must be an "inbound
address" on the circuit-switched network that is then redirected after
processing to a "final [e-mail] address" on the packet-switched
network. And then there's a message involved.
This doesn't cover merely fax messages, but also voicemail messages.
(Notice the section describing audio messages.) That's why, I think,
that you're seeing Asterisk users named in this lawsuit. I'd be happy
to hear otherwise from Mijanda, Inc., Easytel, Inc., and Protus IP
Solutions, so although they may be providing a fax-to-email service, I
doubt that they're being named here because of that. Rather, I suspect
that they're being named for the voice messaging services that are
sending e-mails with the voice message attached.
The patent is very broad, covering a "system" that facilitates the call
reception and e-mail based on DID and a "method" that looks up an e-mail
address based on that DID.
The patent was filed April 1, 1997. VOCP was in 2000. The earliest
Asterisk mailing list messages I see are dated 1999, which is the same
year that Mark Spencer graduated, and I don't think that Asterisk was
around much earlier than that. Noel Burton-Krahn released his
fax-to-email scripts on the HylaFAX lists in 1999. I'm not sure when
mgetty+sendfax(+vgetty) users first started delivering faxes and voice
messages by e-mail, but I would be surprised if it was before the patent
filing date. HylaFAX was around before 1997. I think that vgetty was
around back then also (or some other voice-getty equivalent). So it may
be possible to find someone that was delivering faxes and/or voice
messages by e-mail that far back, but the real trick will be to find
someone that was doing that _with_DID_. As hardware that supports DID
tends to be more expensive, and as FOSS doesn't usually ride the crest
of hardware technology, I would be [pleasantly] surprised to see that
any notable prior FOSS art exists in this case.
The prior art that you're looking for is in the private sector. See
Brooktrout's US patents 5,488,651 (1994); 5,483,580 (1993); 5,291,456
DID equipment has only just recently become economical enough (e.g.
Zapata cards) for many software developers to be able to touch it.
Certainly in 1997 that kind of equipment was not to be found in
competitive markets. In fact, eFax couldn't have been doing it for long
before the date that it was filed (heck, patent law doesn't even require
that you're *using* the invention, just that you came up with an idea of
it - so maybe they weren't even doing it themselves).
Let's say we're back in the early days of the telegraph or telephone or
automobile. Let's say that I have a grocery store and people call me
for orders and I deliver those groceries to them in my truck, carriage,
or wagon. Is that process (business method) patentable? Well, yes, by
today's standards it is. And that's just plain silly, if you ask me -
because that patent would prevent someone in another city from doing the
same thing where the patent holder could not initially service. The
patent established, then, so that the patent holder can have a monopoly
on the market where he is doing business and where he isn't doing
business, but someday may want to. Meanwhile, the people in other
cities can never have such "advanced" services because of the patent...
until the patent holder chooses to make them available there. I don't
think that this was the original purpose behind patents.
Do a searches here:
Search for "brooktrout" and find email-to-fax, basic VoIP functions, fax
relay, and many other saddening things.
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