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Patent Suit Leads To 500,000 Annoyed Software Users 180

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the vp8-soon-becomes-popular dept.
ciaran_o_riordan writes "A rare glimpse at the human harm of a software patent lawsuit: company receives 500,000 calls complaining about video quality after a video call system was forced to change to avoid a patent. That's a lot of people having a bad day. We don't usually hear these details because the court documents get ordered sealed and the lawyers only say what the companys' communication strategists allow. However, for VirnetX v. Apple, Jeff Lease decided to go the hearings, take notes, and give them to a journalist. While most coverage is focussing on the fines involved, doubling or halving Apple's fine would have a much smaller impact on your day than the removal of a feature from some software you like. Instead of letting the software patents debate be reduced to calls for sympathy for big companies getting fined, what other evidence is out there, like this story, for harm caused directly to software users?"
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Patent Suit Leads To 500,000 Annoyed Software Users

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  • Harm? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by plover (150551) on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:07PM (#44742019) Homepage Journal

    Inconvenience, perhaps. Inability to fill the retina display with enough pixels, maybe. But "harm"? I think some perspective is askew here.

    • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

      Inconvenience, perhaps. Inability to fill the retina display with enough pixels, maybe. But "harm"? I think some perspective is askew here.

      to be fair, the greater inconvenience is in added latency because now it needs to go through a relay point. but I agree with you pretty much re:harm

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Gr8Apes (679165)
        There's more harm here than mere latency. Now all communications go through known relays. The NSA must be dancing in the streets. Before they'd actually have to tap the actual IPs.
        • There's more harm here than mere latency. Now all communications go through known relays. The NSA must be dancing in the streets. Before they'd actually have to tap the actual IPs.

          How big does a "relay" have to be? Maybe Apple can get a patent for a "relay" that can be installed very cheaply at any ISP and just passes everything through. Like two inch of copper cable :-) Then every ISP installs one of these and all traffic that can't be transmitted directly for patent infringement reasons goes through this "relay".

    • Re:Harm? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Dunbal (464142) * on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:43PM (#44742475)
      You're getting less than you paid for. Just like if you go to a restaurant and order filet mignon, and you're told you have to have chuck steak instead. For the same price. Your attitude is "you're still eating steak, why are you complaining?". Of course they are harmed.
      • Hmmmm not really. It's more like you order filet mignon with roast sweet potato, broad beans, and peppercorn sauce (for some reason), but the peppercorn sauce is packet and not cooked fresh. The iPhone is still capable of everything the iPhone is capable of, just one thing is slighly less good than it should be.

        This is not like they've said "No more Facetime" like Sony with the OtherOS facility on the PS3.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's true. But imagine if the rockets that will take the species to the stars have patented software in them? On the way to Andromeda, suddenly you get a cease and desist that you can't 3D print He3 anymore.

      Did you ever think of that? Hm, did you?

  • noone is alone in hating software patents except the patent trolls. consumers and even software developers at large companies all hate them, thats why software patents are being eliminated country by country.
    • noone is alone in hating software patents except the patent trolls.

      The patent trolls are alone in hating software patents?

    • by gmhowell (26755)

      noone is alone in hating software patents except the patent trolls. consumers and even software developers at large companies all hate them, thats why software patents are being eliminated country by country.

      I bet the lead singer from Herman's Hermits [peternoone.com] couldn't care less about software patents.

  • by symbolset (646467) * on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:09PM (#44742035) Journal
    I am not going to cry for Apple over software patents. Software patents are a crime against humanity but they are in that fight using them to commit their own atrocities. There is nobody to root for in this fight. A pox on both their houses. Nice /. banner ad though.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ferzerp (83619)

      I think it's the hubris of Apple hurting the "software users" more than the patent holder. Instead of working something out, notifying its users, or something else, it just makes their app work poorly now.

      Perhaps they can be told they are holding it wrong causing connectivity issues....

      • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:52PM (#44742513)

        Instead of working something out, notifying its users, or something else, it just makes their app work poorly now.

        *cough* maps *cough*

        *sips coffee*

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Gr8Apes (679165)
          Maps? Google didn't improve or do squat with the iOS map app until Apple kicked them off as a standard app. When Apple's maps came out, bad as they were, all of a sudden Google's map app came back improved and updated, with features that were only released on Android? Coincidence? Don't believe so..
    • by Technician (215283) on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:35PM (#44742159)

      Apple has run a Walled garden protected by patents for a long time. Maybe it is time for them to simply switch to an open standard supported by many parties such as SIP. If apple adopted open standards, they could interface with Jitsi users, Linksys/Supra users, Grandstream users, Asterisk PBX users, etc.

      The reason they don't do this is because you are not locked to a carrier and can use ViaTalk, Ekiga, IPPI,Ring Central, or other providers. Same reason they don't offer unlocked phones.

      • by Trolan (42526) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:28PM (#44742393) Homepage

        Same reason they don't offer unlocked phones.

        Hmm, I guess that "Buying from Apple" "Unlocked iPhones" section on their store support (http://store.apple.com/us/questions/iphone) was put there by hackers.

        It's the carriers that want the lock. Apple couldn't care less, long as they see the revenue for the device from someone.

        In any case, the problem here is in regards to the handshake, to handle NAT or other end-to-end traversal issues. Pretty much every protocol that wants to be peer-to-peer in a world with NAT has that issue, especially SIP (ergo, STUN. Nevermind how many SIP devices have no clue about IPv6, which is going to be another problem here soon). The VirnetX patent apparently covers some of how to handle that, and since their implementation apparently tripped over something in the claims, now FaceTime has to skip the direct attempts, and go via a relay.

        • by rahvin112 (446269) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:39PM (#44742453)

          You are VERY wrong about them not caring. Apple is adamant about having the carriers involved because overall it nets them far more revenue. Subsidized phone sales through the carriers allows Apple to charge probably 20% more for their product than they could on the open market. Carrier subsidized phones hide the price from consumers.

          This is one of the reasons iPhones don't sell as well outside the US. In many other countries phones are sold directly to the consumer, as a result the consumer is well aware of the price they are paying. The net result is they purchase phones less often and price shop more competitively. In the US market the carrier negotiates a price (actually Apple dictates the price and a minimum volume of purchases) the true cost of the purchase is concealed from the customer. That is GOOD for apple. Their phones are very overpriced and have margins the rest of the manufacturers can't sustain.

          Make no mistake, if US regulators tried to impose some of the same rules that European nations have imposed (in particular forcing carriers to unbundle the phone subsidy) Apple would actively campaign for the carriers. Hiding the true price is the only reason their sales are as high as they are in the US.

        • by Nerdfest (867930)

          Apple wants lock-in as well. FaceTime is Apple only, as is iMessage, and both are just proprietary extensions on open standards (SIP and XMPP?). If the didn't care about lock-in, they would have published the specification (like they actually promised to do in the case of FaceTime).

          • I still don't understand why apple is exposed to patent lawsuit when their system is based on proprietary extensions to standards.... The existing standards can be used to implement FaceTime point to point - so are these patents really encompassing NAT traversal of UDP??

            • by greg1104 (461138)

              Apple is targeted by so many patent suits because they have a lot of money. There's little cash to be extracted directly from standards committees.

      • by pavera (320634)

        By my reading, this company virnetx claims to have patented SIP... So Asterisk, grandstream, and everyone else is probably on their list as well. Anyone who setups up direct communications between 2 endpoints violates their patent.

        According to what I've read, using SIP secured by TLS/SSL and SRTP was only "standardized" in 2004, 1 year after these guys patented "setting up an adhoc VPN" between two devices automatically (which is what SIPS+SRTP does) according to them.

        So, I guess we'll all use VoIP again i

    • by pwizard2 (920421)
      Apple is flush with cash. Why not just buy out the VirnetX (never heard of them until now) patents or just buy the whole company?
      • Alternatively, why don't they implement video conferencing software that uses open sip standards, rather than the walled-garden iUser only hell that is facetime. If they did that, the patent problem would certainly go away.

        Seriously, what is the point of communications software that only talks to devices from one brand???
        • by Nerdfest (867930)

          ... because ten you wouldn't be forced to buy Apple hardware.

        • Seriously, what is the point of communications software that only talks to devices from one brand???

          I was under the impression that Wii Speak could talk only to other Wii Speak users, Xbox Live voice chat could talk only to other Xbox 360 users, and PS3 voice chat could talk only to other PS3 users. Is this true? And I know two wrongs don't make a right, but still, how is it any better or worse than the proprietary nature of FaceTime?

          • I was under the impression that Wii Speak could talk only to other Wii Speak users, Xbox Live voice chat could talk only to other Xbox 360 users, and PS3 voice chat could talk only to other PS3 users. Is this true? And I know two wrongs don't make a right, but still, how is it any better or worse than the proprietary nature of FaceTime?

            I don't game - so I don't know if that is true - do you mean people playing the same multiplayer game on different consoles can't talk to each other? Seems lame.

            I guess I consider FaceTime worse because the iPhone is first and foremost a communications device, whilst those others are gaming devices first, and communications are just a nice to have add-on. So IMHO it is that little bit more disgusting that the video calling solution for iPhone can't talk to non-Apple devices.

        • by greg1104 (461138)

          Using open standards wouldn't change anything. Patent trolls sue Apple here because they have money to extract. They'd still do it whether or not the behavior was used in a standard. Submarine patents that cover standards described behavior happen regularly, but they never sue the people who set the standards. They sue companies with money who make stuff.

          At best, using a standard behavior might pull in a patent pool of companies to help with your defense, if that's part of the legal agreement around lic

      • by b4dc0d3r (1268512)

        ask VirnetX if they want to be an Apple subsidiary, or rather milk their cash cow without having production costs. I'm sure they will say no thanks to being bought, which is the answer to your question.

        stock has soared, stockholders would likely object to any buyout now.

        Lern2financial

        • by gmhowell (26755)

          Not a damned thing they can do about a hostile takeover. Sure, a poison pill, but sometimes that is worse.

      • by greg1104 (461138)

        Apple is targeted by more patent lawsuits than any other company nowadays, because they're seen as a ripe target with lots of cash. If they rolled over and bought everyone who sued them, they'd get hit with even more of them. They have to fight the whole way or the trolls will really smell blood.

    • by mjwx (966435)

      I am not going to cry for Apple over software patents.

      Neither am I, nor will I cry for their users.

      Sure it may seem like Apple is the victim here (and the fanboys love to play the victim card) but really, this is just someone doing to Apple what Apple has been doing to the rest of the industry for years now. They lived by the software patent, now they shall die by the software patent.

      Its effectively karma, in patent form.

      BTW, for the record I think software patents are a stupendously idiotic idea that should never have been granted in the first place.

    • Seriously, it's like there's an echo in here. The other summary was just posted yesterday and had the same 500,000 number cited. Why it's getting posted again is beyond me.

  • i'm a huge fan of their products but i'll be the first one to say they borrow and copy like Microsoft did in the 80's and 90's
    same with facetime, the court decided that apple used someone's work without paying. most likely they even had email evidence saying to engineer facetime this way and face the consequences later.
    the tech is real software that a government contractor developed many years ago and that people took with them to a new company

    if the work is so easy and obvious apple should have no problem

    • by msobkow (48369) on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:55PM (#44742221) Homepage Journal

      Look, here's the simple fact: peer-to-peer communications for any protocol is not a "novel" idea. It's a normal, every-day thing a programmer or engineer considers as a means of preventing bottlenecks at a proxy or server.

      Worse, the standards for SIP specifically set up peer-to-peer connections after the initial hand-shake, so every SIP stack is affected by this bullshit patent. In other words: virtually every IP phone on the planet, whether hardware or software based.

      The US patent system is fundamentally and badly broken. Everyone knows that. But I'm rooting for Apple to spank the everliving shit out of these assholes.

      • by Jmc23 (2353706)
        So, you don't understand what the issue is right? It's not the peer-to-peer, it's the handshake method for the peer-to-peer.
        • by msobkow (48369)

          My understanding is AppleTalk was a modified SIP implementation. Therefore if AppleTalk infringes, so does SIP.

          The only reason I can see for Apple being targetted is they have deep pockets.

          • Facetime [wikipedia.org] =/= AppleTalk [wikipedia.org]
            Other than that, I think your comment is spot on. (Not that I don't enjoy watching Apple taste their own poison).

            --
            I can haz Unicode, Slashdot?

          • by mysidia (191772)

            My understanding is AppleTalk was a modified SIP implementation. Therefore if AppleTalk infringes, so does SIP.

            By AppleTalk you mean FT or iChat? The AppleTalk protocol is for general networking and file transfers and has nothing to do with real-time voice/media communications

            • by msobkow (48369)

              Sorry. My bad. I don't really follow Apple's product lines in detail, so I was confused about the names.

              Not that their naming conventions make any sense. One would think AppleTalk would be for phones, not file transfers. :P

      • by alen (225700)

        if SIP did this before SAIC made this for the CIA then there is nothing to worry about since its prior art
        this work was originally created for the CIA many years ago when peer to peer video was not obvious

        • by mysidia (191772)

          this work was originally created for the CIA many years ago when peer to peer video was not obvious

          What do you mean when peer to peer video was not obvious?

          It was always obvious; there were technological barriers in the form of users just not having enough bandwidth and CPU processing power, and H.264 not having been invented yet.

          Peer to peer video communications was obvious from the days of Star Trek and the Jetsons.

          That is: peer to peer was always the most obvious client architecture for commu

          • by greg1104 (461138)

            Expanding on this, peer to peer video using telephone lines as the transport was first demoed in 1927 [wikipedia.org], and even by then the idea itself was decades old. Protocols for peer to peer video predate all commercial computers; the idea was already obvious a hundred years ago.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        Look, here's the simple fact: peer-to-peer communications for any protocol is not a "novel" idea. It's a normal, every-day thing a programmer or engineer considers as a means of preventing bottlenecks at a proxy or server.

        Yeah, but the DOD net did it first with FTP

        And then IrcII came up with CTCP DCC; /DCC CHAT [name] and /DCC SEND [name] for the IRC protocol; for users to initiate direct communications with each other (bypassing the server, and allowing a direct communication channel that would survi

        • by greg1104 (461138)

          Peer to peer communications over an electronic protocol have been in mass use since the phone was invented. Once your call is connected, you can keep talking even if some resources that routed your call go down. That makes FTP more like the first obvious program to do this "on the Internet". And if it works like a phone, but now it's on a computer, that's not non-obvious innovation even though it was a cool hack.

          • by mysidia (191772)

            Peer to peer communications over an electronic protocol have been in mass use since the phone was invented.

            They've also been in use in paper form, since the private courier was first invented. Not everyone sent their letters through centralized post offices.

            Your courier might on occassion consult information from a central authority (a printed map) in order to get your message from point A to point B, but you could also carry the letter yourself -- an intermediary was never a requirement, just a co

      • by greg1104 (461138)

        I'm rooting for Apple to lose so many of these lawsuits that they're forced to advocate patent reform. As disgusting as this one troll is, Apple's patent aggression across the industry is far worse.

  • Tough, Apple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:17PM (#44742077) Homepage

    "We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas." - Steve Jobs.

    Well, sometimes that comes back and bites you.

    "the data will bolster VirnetX's arguments that its patents are technologically significant, hard to work around, and deserve a high royalty rate."

    None of this would have happened if IPv6 had been deployed by now, and everything had a static IP address. Then peer to peer services just work.

    • Re:Tough, Apple (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PPH (736903) on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:33PM (#44742149)

      None of this would have happened if IPv6 had been deployed by now,

      The patent trolls would just refile all the existing stuff as 'do X in IPv6'. And the USPTO would grant the patents, resetting the term to start at the new filing date.

      Patents are supposed to be non obvious. Unless someone can show where Apple had tried (and failed) to implement the protocol in question until VirnetX published. And suddenly Apple succeeded. Then I'd buy the argument that Apple swiped their idea. But if Apple sat down on its own and built the same damned thing, I'd say the solution is a)obvious and b)trivial. Add any third parties coming up with the same thing and I'd say there's no way it is patentable.

      'Hard to work around' doesn't mean something is patentable. The wheel is pretty hard to work around as well.

      • by Shavano (2541114)

        'Hard to work around' doesn't mean something is patentable. The wheel is pretty hard to work around as well.

        If wheels had been patented the way software is patented, there would be a patent for having four lug nuts on those wheels and another one for having six lug nuts and another one for having a plurality of lug nuts wherein the number of lug nuts is either prime or a product of primes.

      • by pavera (320634)

        The problem is apple *did* implement the standard, this is a classic submarine patent. Apple is using the standard SIPS+SRTP protocol... but guess what? These guys patented it a year before it was standardized, and now its the defacto standard in everything (IP Phones, LTE, literally all voice communications now use SIP)

        So these guys printed a mint by patenting something, then getting standards bodies to adopt their standards, then claiming everyone infringes by implementing the standard.

    • "None of this would have happened if IPv6 had been deployed by now, and everything had a static IP address. Then peer to peer services just work."

      That does not make any sense, IPv6 is just more address space. The reason I do not have a static address is because then ISP can charge more for a static address, this will not change in IPv6.

      • Re:Tough, Apple (Score:5, Informative)

        by spire3661 (1038968) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:13PM (#44742319) Journal
        Its also that every address will be globally unique, so no more NAT traversal, which is what a lot of this 'innovation' covers. Its not 'just' more address space, its a fundamental shift.
        • Some would like ipv6 to be the end of NAT but I suspect we will still see some NATs either because of ISPs restricting addresses for buisness reasons* or because customers want to switch ISPs without renumbering internally or using PI space and BGP**.

          And even in the absence of NAT similar (thought slightly less complex) hole poking techniques will be needed to punch through stateful firewalls.

          * For example a mobile phone provider may refuse to perform prefix delegation at all to discourage tethering or a ho

      • by Trolan (42526)

        RIR allocations to ISPs are premised on users getting entire networks versus a single address. That by itself should ensure end-users get larger than a single IPv6 address. Whether it's static or not is irrelevant for cases like this, just that it's a public IP and therefore directly accessible (barring the non-packet mangling stateful firewall).

        Now, if the ISP will charge for a static IPv6 prefix, versus whatever their provisioning system hands out, who knows? For many services, they won't care, since w

      • It changes because your ISP will give your router a IPv6 prefix. All the devices on your network can then use that prefix in combination with their own address to form a publicly addressable IPv6 address. It's the equivalent of your ISP giving you your own /8 address for IPv4.

        • OK, but then the prefix will be dynamic and change every week unless I pay them $10/month.
          I guarantee you, ISPs are not just going to remove a source of income, for absolute no reason.

          • That is a completely different (possible) issue that is unrelated to being able to do peer-to-peer connections because of NAT issues.

            • But completely related to "everything ha[ving] a static IP address"

              • Yes, the OP was right, IPv6 fixes it, but nothing to do with having a static IP address. Dynamic IPv6 addresses solves it, of course assuming there isn't a IIPv6-NAT or firewall breaking things again, which is entirely possible.

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          It changes because your ISP will give your router a IPv6 prefix. All the devices on your network can then use that prefix in combination with their own address to form a publicly addressable IPv6 address. It's the equivalent of your ISP giving you your own /8 address for IPv4.

          Potentially publicly accessible.

          Because nothing changes with IPv6, except things get WAY more confusing. You'll still need relay servers because there are little boxes known as "firewalls" that break direct connectivity. Right now stuf

    • Actually I think P2P could work easily if someone set up a single routing server for it. Then all the NAT breakthroughs could be done automatically. Hey, you could even host a server on your home network, behind a router. I'm sure someone has done this already, but it just isn't popular for some reason.
  • by Beardydog (716221) on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:21PM (#44742093)
    As noted in the comments the first time this was posted, this story doesn't mention the number of complaints received BEFORE the change, making the number 500,000, and the entire article, almost completely meaningless. Apple has millions of customers and, as with every company, a shocking percentage of them are either imbeciles or spend their days and nights pining for minor slights to write angry emails about. This could be perfectly average. The entirety of the information provided for the story comes from a party to the dispute.
    • by Jmc23 (2353706)
      Yeah, why didn't they include the number of complaints about the problems brought about by lack of peer-to-peer when they had peer-to-peer. Idiot journalists, right?
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Very few annoyed customers call up to complain. Does Apple put the complaints line number in the default phone book or something? If 500,000 people were complaining about Facetime before one would have to conclude it was absolutely terrible, and it doesn't seem to have a particularly bad reputation.

      Also, while the information was submitted by the patent abuser it originates from Apple.

  • Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Monday September 02, 2013 @08:58PM (#44742235)

    Inconveniencing folks so they can't use technology until they give you money is the whole point of patents.

    • No, that's the effect. The point is dissemination of engineering information for the advancement of science.

      The average person has little actual knowledge of patents and therefore expects that it's a natural condition, not a theoretical construct created from thin air for a specific purpose.

      It's been twisted so that it's primary effect is to wring money from people with nothing more than lawyerly filings. It often doesn't even help the typical individual inventor, as the prosecution of a patent infringement

  • by gweihir (88907) on Monday September 02, 2013 @09:10PM (#44742303)

    .. by competitors. Instead of doing R&D and very likely discovering things independently, the competitors are forbidden to innovate on their own and have to license the patent instead. The patent holder does not need to innovate either, they have the market locked down and can prevent anybody overtaking them.

    A truly evil thing.

  • Hmm...I wonder which company Apple will be buying out next?

    I wonder what'll happen to their stock share price?

  • Look, sometimes these software disputes are crap. But sometimes someone stole another person's code. And in those situations, I don't really care if you're customers were unhappy with a loss of service due to stolen software being pulled.

    Stop it. Pay for it.

    How the hell is anyone supposed to make a living at this if everyone steals? Its madness.

  • by darkmeridian (119044) <william.chuang@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Monday September 02, 2013 @11:33PM (#44742923) Homepage

    Apple isn't complaining that it costs $2.4 million a month to work around the patent or that there are 500,000 complaints after the workaround was instituted. The patent-holder brought up these facts to show that their patent should carry a hefty royalty payment because Apple could not work around them--not only do you have to pay $2.4 million a month you also have to lower quality to the extent where you have 500,000 complaints even after paying that money.

  • Whenever you hear stories like this, it's easy for people to call out for the elimination of all patents (just need to take a cursory look at the comments above). However, while the patent system needs reform, we still need patents. In many industries, companies would a lot of resources into R&D to come up with new inventions. If you let everyone random person/company come afterwards, reverse engineer the end-product, the company that invested all that R&D money will be at a complete loss. This sit

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