Apple's iPhone voice mail the target of another patent suit

A new lawsuit against Apple says its visual voice mail feature is infringing on someone else's patents. Stop us if you've heard this one before.

A shot of Brandywine's "simultaneous voice/data answering machine" patent.
A shot of Brandywine's "simultaneous voice/data answering machine" patent. US Patent and Trademark Office

The voice mail system on Apple's iPhone has once again become the target of a lawsuit from a company claiming infringement on one or more software patents.

A new lawsuit filed yesterday against Apple by Pennsylvania-based Brandywine Communications Technologies in a U.S. District Court in Florida accuses Apple of infringing on two of its patents covering voice technologies.

The filing, picked up by GigaOm today, says Apple's infringing on U.S. Patent No. 5,719,992 as well as U.S. Patent No. 6,236,717, both of which cover a "simultaneous voice/data answering machine." Brandywine claims Apple had knowledge of the former patent since "at least December 13, 2011," which is when the group sent Apple a letter about it.

Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet declined to comment on the suit.

The patent itself says it "coordinates the storage of voice messages and data messages on an audio answering machine and a personal computer, respectively." In the abstract, the inventors make the case that this lets people retrieve their messages like they would an e-mail.

The suit covers the first through fourth-generation iPhones, and does not mention the iPhone 4S, despite being filed some four months after its introduction and release. Curiously, the suit also lists those devices as the "iPhone 4, iPhone 3, iPhone 2" and "iPhone 1," despite Apple having only used an enumeration scheme in its fourth generation model. Also curious is the inclusion of the iPad 1 and 2, which do not have phone applications, and thus voice mail software.

This is not the first time Apple's voice mail software has been targeted in a lawsuit. In December 2007, just a few months after the release of the first iPhone, Apple and AT&T were sued by Klausner Technologies, which said that Apple was infringing on a patent it held for visual voice mail --a feature that was exclusive to the iPhone at the time. By mid-2008 the Apple, AT&T, and Klausner Technologies reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum.

Brandywine is seeking damages as part of the case, but not an injunction (a ban on sales of infringing devices) as some other recent patent cases have requested.

Updated at 1:20 p.m. with Apple declining to comment.

 

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