Will the Rockstar Lawsuits Impact WebRTC?

Will the Rockstar Lawsuits Impact WebRTC?

By Phil Edholm November 1, 2013 4 Comments
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Will the Rockstar Lawsuits Impact WebRTC? by Phil Edholm

As you may have heard, Rockstar has filed its first set of lawsuits using the vast Nortel patent portfolio. Rockstar is the legal entity created by Microsoft, Apple, RIM, Ericsson, and Sony to buy the Nortel patents. They outbid Google to the sum of $4.5B to buy a large set of core patents in the telecommunications space. The patents were far ranging as Nortel had limited the distribution of patents in business sales to those that were only used in that business. So all the general and valuable cross-portfolio patents were held by Nortel to the end and sold to Rockstar. At the time, many knowledgeable technology insiders saw Rockstar as the ultimate patent troll, an entity with a huge stock of valuable patents and no products to countersue over.

Now Rockstar has filed patent lawsuits against Google and seven Android phone vendors: Asustek, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung, and ZTE. The lawsuits focus on six patents titled "associative search engine.” The patents describe "an advertisement machine which provides advertisements to a user searching for desired information within a data network." The oldest patent in the case is US Patent No. 6,098,065, with a filing date of 1997. The most recent patent in the suit was filed in 2007 and granted in 2011.

A key question for all of us in the WebRTC community is whether it will impact WebRTC. While the impact of this suit may be to begin trying to get Google to pay royalties, is there another suit to protect the Apple FaceTime garden and Lync/Skype from WebRTC? Obviously it is not clear whether this will happen, but some of the core VoIP patents that Nortel owned are now in Rockstar.

Obviously the big focus is on Android and the impact that Android is having on the five phone vendor businesses represented by the owners of Rockstar. The ability of owners to have a patent troll like Rockstar seems to stretch the boundaries of the patent system, but also seems to be within the legal rights of patent owners to assign their patents to another entity. According to Rockstar's CEO, John Veschi, "Pretty much anyone out there is infringing.” If Rockstar can use the Nortel patents on behalf of its owners with the impunity of a patent troll the results could be significant, for the industry at large and potentially for WebRTC.

 

4 Responses to "Will the Rockstar Lawsuits Impact WebRTC?" - Add Yours

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Kevin Kieller 11/3/2013 7:45:10 AM

Phil, not sure what you mean when you refer to another "suit to protect the Apple FaceTime garden and Lync/Skype from WebRTC?"

Why would WebRTC threaten either FaceTime or Lync/Skype? WebRTC is a tool, an API, a protocol. Microsoft has already indicated their willingness to release a WebRTC Lync endpoint when the standards solidify.

The browser-based Lync Web App client already supports IM, presence, audio, video, and conferencing (including desktop sharing, whiteboard, and polling capabilities) for anyone (you don't need a Lync account) using IE, Safari, Chrome or Firefox browsers. Yes, this currently requires a small, simple, one-time browser add-in download but this is virtually "frictionless".

A WebRTC version of the Lync Web App would not provide a markedly different user experience.

And the Lync Mobile client (an app) already works on iPhones, iPads, Android devices and of course Windows Phones. So, WebRTC versions if they worked in mobile browsers would not really extend the reach of the Lync communication experience, except maybe to the diminishing market of BlackBerry devices.

Am I missing something?
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Phil Edholm 11/5/2013 9:45:05 AM

Yes, you are right, the Lync browser enablement requires a plug-in download and is proprietary. As it is a plug-in, it must be changed and adapted for each browser and version, I do not believe it currently supports Opera or the new Mozilla WebOS for example. You are correct in suggesting that it would be in Microsoft's best interest to adopt WebRTC to replace the current solution. Purely from a development perspective it would reduce investment, assure compatibility and would operate in environments that do not allow plug-ins due to security concerns. My point was that Microsoft may be concerned about the emerging transformation that WebRTC enables, where federation becomes a thing of the past (like the web is for information), and the value of large communications communities is diminished. Having 10 million web sites potentially enabled to do their own communications can reduce the value of both Skype and Lync federation. If I could use LinkedIn to communicate with my business contacts instead of Skype, why would I use Skype? Similarly, if social sites enable communications through WebRTC, will users go there instead of Skype? As communications becomes integrated into the web, stand-alone communicators may be reduced in value. If there are universal alternatives to FaceTime, will Apple users still see that as an advantage? WebRTC enables thousands of new communications alternatives to emerge, much as the original web disrupted AOL and pre-browser information solutions. With WebRTC, new players will emerge and that is not desirable to retaining a large existing position like Skype or FaceTime. If the web model emerges (when I want to interact with you I go to your server, when you want to interact with me you come to mine) eliminates the value of the server to server federation that is inherent in Lync and means that we do not have to be users of the same system to have full communications capability including contextual presence and full collab
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Cid Isbell 11/5/2013 10:03:13 AM

Phil, great points on the communications simplicity that could evolve with WebRTC. I see this as a possibility as well - if a standard video codec is agreed upon. WebRTC could offer vast opportunities and innovations in the communications space. I hope the IETF steps in and resolves the video codec wars.
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Kevin Kieller 11/6/2013 4:15:50 AM

Respectfully, your "web model" of communications where I go your server and you go to mine, greatly oversimplifies how things would work.


WebRTC is not a communication client so on our "servers" there would still need to be HTML5 client code. This means each user interface could be potentially different. And now everyone needs a server? How about when three people want to collaborate, who's "server" do we go to?


WebRTC allows for a peer-to-peer communication channel (between endpoints) which are most likely portrayed as browsers (but could be other devices). However in order to setup the communication a real server that delivers the app (in a browser the HTML5 code) needs to exist. Further, as soon as we want to do any advanced communications such as presence aggregration, multi-party conferencing, bridging to other communication networks (e.g. PSTN) a "communications server" will be required.

Your LinkedIn example works only because it assumes LinkedIn writes the code to deal with all the server functions.


Perhaps someone could use WebRTC to help build the client for a Skype-like competitor but there would still be tons of coding and development required. While WebRTC does open up some interesting client development experimentation it by no means is a "silver bullet" that makes developing a UC or Collaboration solution easy.

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