It looks like Chicken Little was right.
The sky is falling and Foxy Woxy Verizon is going to snap off Vonage’s head with a permanent injunction that bids fair to shut down the VoIP provider.
Now I’m certainly no expert on intellectual property law so I’ll leave comment about the legal ins and outs to the lawyers.
But as a citizen, I think there’s something here that gets to the heart of the whole notion of intellectual property.
Nobody disputes your right to the opportunity to make money from your inventions — think Thomas Edison and the incandescent light bulb. It’s not an abstract valuation of human creativity. It’s an incentive to bring new inventions to market that make life better, easier, more enjoyable. Even the Chinese have come round to recognize that patent and copyright protection is to their advantage in the long run.
But suppose Edison had patented the light bulb so he could prevent other people from using the technology while he continued to make a killing in his candle-manufacturing monopoly?
Closer to the present, suppose Tim Berners-Lee had patented the World Wide Web and socked the technology away so he could slap a patent infringement lawsuit on everyone creating an accessible user interface for the Internet? You probably wouldn’t be reading the New York Times — or me, for that matter — online.
Let’s face it. If we waited for Verizon to deliver VoIP, we’d still be waiting. Ten years ago when pioneers were going out on a limb experimenting with IP for voice communications Verizon was nowhere to be found.
And now that I think about it, maybe Verizon needs to answer to us, the people, about why they had this technology and didn’t use it to give us low-cost phone calls. Or the other features that are now commonplace with VoIP — free voicemail, call waiting, caller ID or voicemail-to-email.
Verizon may have won in the court of law but in the court of public opinion, the jury is still deliberating.