AT&T Suit Against Vonage Makes Mockery Of U.S. Patent System

22 October 2007

Is the U.S. patent system irretrievably broken, or are aggrieved parties justifiably defending their turf against infringement by companies unfairly trying to benefit from the fruits of their labors? Looking at AT&T's lawsuit against Vonage, it definitely seems to me like it's the former.

On first glance, I figured I'd have to be crazy to defend Vonage, given how they've been batted around by the legal system lately. The VoIP Vendor is already oh-for-two in patent lawsuits, having previously agreed to pay Sprint-Nextel some $80 million. Vonage is also appealing a jury finding in favor of Verizon.

However, when I got into it a little deeper, it became apparent that it's not Vonage, but rather the patent system, which has the problem.

The U.S. patent system -- set up in 1793 and modernized in 1953 -– is simply not up to the task of assessing the patentability of modern technological developments. For one thing, the patent office has been periennially understaffed. More importantly, its examiners don't have the kind of broad or deep expertise required to parse patent applications in everything from biotech to embedded software.

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