Frontier Sues Google over Patent on Google-Owned Invention

Last Updated Jun 23, 2010 5:23 PM EDT

Frontier Communications (FTR) is sure that Google (GOOG) Voice is stepping on its toes -- so much so that Frontier brought a patent infringement suit against the search engine giant and telecommunications services provider. The irony is that Google seems to own the invention that Frontier patented.

Frontier filed the suit yesterday -- the same day it received patent 7,742,468. That's awfully quick turnaround, especially as it didn't first even take the time to try to reach an agreement with Google.

Clearly Frontier was on the ball about how Google "greatly and irreparably damaged" it. Too bad it wasn't more timely with its original filing.

According to the patent paperwork, it seems to focus on a service that sounds similar to Google Voice:

A method for providing enhanced telephone services via a computerized telephone services device for use in conjunction with multiple telephone lines and providers. According to embodiments of the invention, a subscriber to telephone services or a group of subscribers may be reached on multiple telephone lines from a single dial-in number; calls in progress may be transferred seamlessly from one line associated with a subscriber to another; and group calling features may be enhanced.
According to the patent grant, Frontier first filed a previous application on February 9, 2007, and then a secondary application. The original filing date would be the controlling one. Look through the patent, and you don't see mention of either Google Voice or GrandCentral, the company that developed the technology that Google acquired in July 2007.

However, GrandCentral was already demonstrating the technology in September 2006. And still Frontier's lawyers and engineers didn't mention GrandCentral's service as prior art in the patent. Given the coverage that GrandCentral received, it would have been difficult to be in telecommunications and not have heard about it. Oops.

Now, the details of patents are telling -- trying to jump to conclusions based on the abstract that I quoted from the patent doesn't get you far. And yet, Frontier insists that Google Voice infringes on the patent. So why shouldn't Frontier have had to acknowledge that someone else had the same idea up and running prior to the filing?

Patent litigation is messy and predicting who might win is a waste of time. However, when Google says that the claims are without merit in this case, I have to think that it's more than predictable corporate blather.

Original telephone image: user wax115, site standard license. Photo manipulation, Erik Sherman.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.