Bellevue company patent infringement win gives small inventors hope

Business Commentary: an in-depth view of issues impacting people and our economy

In America, when people invent things, they expect their trade secrets to be protected by

federal law when their government patents are approved. However, that isn’t always the case.

Patent infringements are life and death for inventors especially when their ideas are

incorporated into products made by larger and better financed competitors who avoid paying

licensing fees. Too often the originators sue, run out of money fighting off competitors, and simply

fade away.

Until recently, our courts have been little help to patent owners. However, an obscure

Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) provides new hope for the small guys who worked tirelessly

perfecting their innovations.

The PTAB was formed in 2012 to implement the American Invents Act of 2011, a measure

passed by Congress and signed by President Obama. It consists of three members who rule on

patent infringements. It has been frequently criticized as a tool of major companies; however, the

game-changer is its unanimous decision favoring Voip-Pal. Its patent granted by the U.S. Patent &

Trademark Office was infringed upon.

Mike Flynn, retired publisher of the Puget Sound Business Journal and author of Flynn’s

Harp column, investigated the issue after learning the small Bellevue technology company won a

landmark PTAB ruling which could lead to multi-billion-dollar patent infringement settlements

from huge corporations such as Amazon, Apple, AT&T and Verizon.

Flynn found that Voip-Pal.com has a suite of patents on technologies dealing with what are

known as “Voice Over Internet Protocol” and has filed $9.7 billion in lawsuits against 60

companies claiming they are infringing on its patents.

Amazon is the latest tech giant to be sued by Voip-Pal. Voip-Pal alleges Amazon’s Alexa

calling and messaging services use its patented technologies to direct voice and video calls and

messages without licensing agreements.

In fact, according to Voip-Pal president Dennis Chang, Flynn wrote, “we could make an

enormous amount of revenue just licensing our patents since people have been infringing for

years.”

Flynn also interviewed Voip-Pal CEO Emil Malak who believes the PTAB has finally put

some teeth into patents. “I fully expect that infringing entities will either license or acquire the

Voip-Pal technology bringing major returns to our shareholders.”

Malak said the suit against Amazon came after investigating the Alexa platform and Echo

line of products which Voip-Pal technicians found violated its patents.

Malak told Flynn: “We had the vision that within 10 years, the Internet would become the

primary means for telecommunications and realized that, in the future, calls, media and messages

would be primarily routed using the Internet, with a seamless transfer to cell phones, landlines, or

computers where necessary.”

It was a revolutionary idea at the time, three years before Apple’s Steve Jobs unveiled the

iPhone. “At the time most people were making calls using landline-based or cellphones, with

information traveling over phone lines and cellular networks,” Flynn wrote.

Despite the grumbling from the federal judges, the PTAB decision has received no media

attention. It is a “non-appealable” verdict.

The American Invest Act in 2011 was intended to transitioned U.S. patent law from a “first

to invent” patent system where the priority is given to the first inventor to “file a patent

application” to a system which has tended to benefit large companies.

Malak now believes major tech companies may decide that it is more logical financially to

pay licensing fees to Voip-Pal than to face treble damages if the infringements continue.

The Voip-Pal decision has sweeping ramifications. Hopefully, Congress will act to restore

patents as property rights and give startups a better chance to protect their property from entities

which have greater resources.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of

Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, after over 25 years as its CEO

and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Business

A young chef carefully spreads sauce onto pizza dough during a cooking class at Young Chefs Academy of Covington. Courtesy photo/YCA Covington
Kids culinary school opens in Covington

The school takes the unknown out of cooking for kids, owner Deb O’Brien said.

A new measure from the King County Council could increase flexibility for businesses in rural areas of King County. File photo
County measure would increase flexibility for businesses in rural areas

Staff report Legislation the King County Council passed June 23 could lead… Continue reading

The Landing in Renton/File photo
The Landing open in Phase 2 for businesses

Individual retailers determine reopening and operating hours

Photo from March 2019, when the Hi-Lands Shopping center first stood vacant. A developer wants to move forward with demolition but states it can’t due to a city moratorium. File photo/Haley Ausbun
Hi-Lands Shopping Center purchased, but project, demolition on hold

The city placed an emergency moratorium on land use applications in Sunset neighborhood until October 2020. The new developer for Solera has appealed the decision and spoke out against it.

24 Hour Fitness to close clubs in Kent, Auburn, Renton

Panther Lake Kent location scheduled to reopen next month

24 Hour Fitness is closing over 100 gyms, including one in Renton. Photo courtesy the Highlands 24 Hour Fitness Instagram.
Highlands 24-Hour Fitness gym will not be reopening

It is one of several gyms in region and over 100 in the country closing after 24 Hour Fitness filed bankruptcy Monday

Westfield Southcenter Mall to reopen June 15

Modified hours; safety protocols

Closure, layoffs at Mitsubishi Aircraft’s Renton headquarters.

Only a year into joining the aerospace hub of the Northwest, several hits to the commercial jet industry in 2019-2020 causes the company to scale back.

Goodwill to reopen donation centers, stores in King, Pierce counties

Including Kent, Auburn, Federal Way locations

Michelle Hankinson stands in front of the Renton Area Youth Services office in downtown Renton. While RAYS is merging with two other nonprofits, much of it remains the same. Courtesy photo RAYS.
Local RAYS joins nonprofit Childhaven

Renton Area Youth Services has been working with local families for 50 years.

New Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma to open June 8

$400M, 310,000-square-foot facility will open with COVID-19 precautions