Before I started teaching at the USPTO last year, I mocked their awarding a patent to Amazon for 1-click. Turns out that the media really doesn't report the whole story, most likely because journos don't understand how patents and the application process works. I now know quite a bit more.
And sure enough, just like the blogosphere's up in arms about "net neutrality" without really understanding the technology or the regs involved, now people are upset that Verizon a) has patented stuff and b) is protecting their patents:
Look closely at what those supposedly valid claims describe. A public packet data communications network? A network using TCP/IP? Interlinked data networks? Verizon has patented the Internet.
No, Verizon has not patented the Internet, nor has the company come close to claiming that. Patent applications are approved only after they are narrowed down to the most specific claims (a term, BTW, which examiners basically view like land claims). Verizon put forth a list of claims that are about a specific way of delivering a specific application over the Internet.
As Brodsky points out, Verizon's suit is intended not to actually claim proprietary control over the Internet, but to obliterate all of its competition. And you can bet that it's not so they can provide their customers cheaper, better, more efficient service. The case is in appeal, and hopefully the court will overturn the ruling and Verizon's new, bizarre patent claim.
In the comments, MarkinSanFran posts the critical claim 1 in the suit which limits the patent to just voice communication. Which makes it much less scary, but still monopolistic and anti-consumer...
Actually, it limits the patent to how wireless gateways would work with the Internet. Very specific. Those claims listed originally refer back to Claim 1, which is a very important thing: they are all dependent on that initial claim. Taking them out of context completely misrepresents the patent.
And is mcjoan really suggesting that the whole patent idea is scary, monopolistic and anti-consumer? You know, the whole notion of patents is Constitutionally-mandated:
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries
Inventors have a right to protect their inventions, even Verizon. The examiners' charge is actually to reject claims until they are extremely narrow and focused, and such claims must be "novel" or "non-obvious enhancements" to a previous patent. This is how you encourage innovation.
Also note that Vonage has already found a partial workaround and likely will be able to do more in the future without infringing on the patents. So take a deep breath. Verizon ain't gonna be the thing that destorys Vonage, anyway. It's Vonage's unsustainable business model, but that's for another post.
Full disclosure: Verizon and the Patent Office are our customers.