Google Inc.’s instant message and Internet phone feature, Google Talk, has been hit by patent infringement allegations.
Google Talk is the search giant’s combination of instant messaging and VOIP (voice over IP).
Rates Technology Inc (RTI) has brought a case against Google in New York. The patent-holding company claims that two of its patents, dating back to 1991 and 1995, have been infringed. Both relate to technology designed to minimizing the cost of calls over the internet…
Basically, Rates Technology says it has two patents for minimizing the cost of long distance calls using the Internet. The main patent is 5,425,085.
Google said in a statement that, "We believe the lawsuit is without merit and we will defend against it vigorously."
Google’s recent deal to buy a 5 per cent stake in AOL for $1 billion could help it sidestep the litigation. Under the terms of the AOL deal, Google Talk users will be able to talk to users of AOL’s TotalTalk system. Analysts noted that Google may also be able to license AOL’s VoIP technology.
Google Talk allows users to hold voice conversations with other computer users. It is based on VoIP software, which allows users to make voice calls through their computers and over the internet at a fraction of the cost of traditional services. One of the pioneer companies in this field, Skype, was recently bought by eBay for more than $2.5 billion.
Google’s system has been restricted to those who sign up for the company’s e-mail service, which was also the subject of a legal wrangle earlier this year. Google was forced to rename the service "Google Mail" in Britain after another company claimed copyright over "Gmail".
However, the case will still be an unwelcome distraction for Google. The internet search and advertising company introduced its instant voice and text messaging system in August under the strap-line: "They say talk is cheap. Google thinks it should be free". The launch was widely seen as opening an important market for Google. The company could ultimately compete with traditional telecoms groups such as BT, as well as cable and satellite broadcasters, as consumers look to buy television, internet and telephone services in "triple play" bundles from a single vendor.
In March, The US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed a decision that dismissed a patent infringement action brought by RTI against Nortel Networks. Rates has sued Nortel, Sharp and others over patents it holds and has gone to court more than 25 times in the last 15 years to defend them. It generally asks for a one off payment to go away.
Rates Technology CEO, Jerry Weinberger is reported as saying that to take his company on you need a million dollars in legal fees just to start. The smaller companies are more likely to resist, he said.
U.S. District Judge E. Thomas Boyle last heard the case on Dec. 6.
According to documents related to the patent case posted online by Search Engine Watch, the blog that first reported the case said a court hearing is to be held on February 3.
Neither Boyle’s clerk nor attorneys representing Rates Technology responded to requests for comment.