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Cable Technology Feature Article

December 20, 2011

Sprint Nextel Sues Time Warner and Comcast over Voice over Data Patents

By Laura Stotler, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Sprint (News - Alert) Nextel Corp. is making good on the 12 patents it holds for voice-over-packet communications, filing suit against Time Warner Cable Inc., Comcast Corp. and two other cable television companies.

Sprint alleges the companies infringed on patents relating to transmitting phone calls over digital lines. The lawsuits were filed in federal court in Kansas City, and also named Cable One Inc. and Cox Communications Inc. in addition to Time Warner (News - Alert) and Comcast.

Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless operator, based in Overland Park, Kansas, claims the companies are using technology it patented in the 1990s for transmission of voice data packets. In the complaint, Sprint says the companies “have realized the great value in this technology and have misappropriated it without Sprint's permission.”

This isn't the first time Sprint has sought to protect its voice-over-data patents, and it has been successful in the past. In 2005, the company filed suits against Vonage (News - Alert) and Voiceglo Communications on similar claims relating to the patents. The patents specifically describe how to connect calls between a telephone and data packets such as those carried over the Internet.

While the company settled its suit against Voiceglo in 2006, a $69.5 million verdict against Vonage ultimately led to an $80 million agreement in which Vonage licensed Sprint Nextel's (News - Alert) VOP service portfolio. The company also filed additional lawsuits in 2008 against four companies, including NuVox (News - Alert) Communications Inc., Broadvox Holdings LLC, Big River Telephone Co. and Paetec Communications Inc.

“Unfortunately, many companies in the industry, including Time Warner, have realized the great value in this technology and have misappropriated it without Sprint’s permission,” says the current suit. “It is because of this unauthorized use that Sprint has taken efforts to enforce this patent portfolio against others in the industry in the past and is now enforcing its patents in this case.”

Sprint Nextel spokesperson Stephanie Vinge-Walsh added that the company “invested significant amounts of time and resources in the technology covered by these (VOP) patents.” She said that six of the 12 patents have successfully been litigated previously.

The four companies named in the lawsuit all declined comment on the pending litigation.

Edited by Jennifer Russell