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Verizon Says It Owns the Internet


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It seems Verizon has taken out a patent on the Internet. All of it.


We know this as a result of that court case in which Verizon is trying to sue competitor Vonage out of business. Vonage offers telephone service over Internet connections, and so takes customers away from Verizon. In tried-and-true form, Verizon filed suit and a silly District Court ruling (currently being appealed) awarded Verizon $58 million plus a piece of Vonage’s revenues.


But the interesting part comes as part of the decision. Here are three claims upheld by the U.S. District Court, as quoted from the decision that could cost Vonage big time:


“6. A method as in claim 1, wherein the public packet data communication network is a packet switched network.

7. A method as in claim 6, wherein the packet switched network comprises a system of interlinked data networks using TCP/IP protocol.

8. A method as in claim 7, wherein the system of interlinked data networks comprises the Internet.”


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.


The point of the Vonage suit is not to enforce a patent — it’s to crush the competition and if it takes staking a claim to the Internet to to it, then that’s what it takes.


We certainly hope that a court which actually knows something about patents will reverse this ruling later this month when the case is heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In the meantime, it’s valuable to step back and ponder the hubris of a company that portends to patent the Internet — and gets away with it.


This is not an isolated example of a telephone company asserting its muscle. AT&T and Qwest (along with Sprint) blocked calls to free conference-call services, allegedly over a dispute for payments. These services are used by non-profits, which suddenly found themselves being directed to higher-priced services offered by AT&T and Qwest.


There are FCC actions in the works, and an antitrust suit has been filed.


For those of us who want a Net Neutrality policy, the old adage is true: You’re not paranoid if they really are after you. Or, to put it in context of the 100-year history of anticompetitive behavior by the phone industry: Genetics wins.

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