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WebRTC fans prepare to meet VirnetX

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

facetime_intro

Updated: 11 November – thanks to Steven Baker for calling me out that my numbers for VirnetX were wrong, I forgot to multiple x 1000 (corrected below) – my bad. VirnetX as you might expect is a highly speculative stock so this posting was picked up by an investor chat room. Steven also called me out that Dr. Short/Larson (board members at VirnetX) had highly esteemed careers at SAIC (a gov’t contractor) and effectively VirnetX isn’t a ‘shell’ company. Nonetheless, these types of company leave a bad taste in the mouth of any technology company executive trying to offer a real product or service.

Back in June 2010, Steve Jobs @ Apple introduced Facetime (video here), but look closely at this video snapshot (click the thumbnail silly) of Steve explaining what technology is involved in Facetime. My god – it’s WebRTC or rather WebRTC is Facetime. Perhaps that answers why Apple continues not to say anything about WebRTC, they already invented it. Blogger Packetstan undertook some deep packet inspection to confirm indeed that Facetime was using all of these technologies.  But that’s not the point of my posting today.

Apple got sued in 2012 for patent infringement surrounding Facetime, found guilty, the court (the hang’em high US District Court of Eastern Texas) awarded the patent owner, VirnetX, $368 million. Never heard of VirnetX? Well WebRTC’ers get ready to meet them. VirnetX is your classic patent troll, the kind of company you wish your cousin Vinnie from New Jersey would go visit.   With offices in Nevada (must be nice the SEC docs indicate they’ve committed to spending $5,00 a month for their office lease – I’m not kidding). For the 6 months to June 2013, they’ve invested a grand total of $686,000 in R&D. It’s a real company though, according to Jeff Lease, one of the primary investors in VirnetX, who helps out periodically at VirnetX when he’s not running his primary company — a lawn sprinkler installation firm. VirNetX trades on the NYSE (this is not a dream folks) and sports (hold your breath) a $1.0 billion market cap.

Who says America isn’t great!

VirnetX has sued nearly everybody. Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya, Apple, Mitel to name a few. They come to the battle armed with a total of 21 patents but mainly unleash these to start 6,502,135, 7,188,180, 7,418,504, 7,490,151, 7,921,211, and 7,987,274. VirnetX just loves any application that appears to be doing voice, video and chat because it must be infringing on their patents and sues away. Doesn’t this sound like WebRTC?

If you read the patents (as I have) your immediate reaction is these has nothing to do with WebRTC. The patents talk mostly about secured domain systems and VPN type connections. Unfortunately, you nor I are patent attorneys, judges or expert witnesses – you know – people who know what they’re talking there in Eastern Texas (where is that exactly?).

Apple has tried to steer around this by forcing Facetime to relay all media thru their TURN servers (oops a WebRTC word) and this appears to be costing Apple $2.4 million a month (for those who thought TURN service was gonna be cheap – I have another blog article in the making here).

What does this mean and what do we do? It’s tough to fight a battle that hasn’t started. VirnetX likes to sue people who have money (following the Willy Sutton rule). You haven’t reach nirvana until you’ve sued Google and I’m guessing these buzzards are circling WebRTC as we speak trying to figure out who they can sue and for how much. Poor bastards, like you and I, are likely safe for the moment.

However, if you see anyone patrolling around from VirnetX at the forthcoming WebRTC Expo in Santa Clara, let me know, I’ll call my cousin Vinnie.

Comments 1
  • Lawrence Byrd
    Posted on

    Lawrence Byrd Lawrence Byrd

    Author

    The hope for all WebRTC believers is that Google is big enough, tough enough and committed enough to fight off the patent trolls, be they VirnetX or anyone else. Google has invested $300M+ so far, has fought and paid for a “no claims” agreement with MPEG-LA over VP8 and is currently winning in European courts over various Nokia claims. One hopes they are willing to keep going. They deserve some praise for dealing with all this BS.

    Your point is about the whole WebRTC design pattern and not codecs, but interestingly Jonathan Rosenberg (currently Cisco) was arguing against VP8 at the IETF88 meeting this week precisely on unknown patent risk issues (see http://tools.ietf.org/agenda/88/slides/slides-88-rtcweb-8.pdf).


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