Inventor sues Google, Verizon, others on voicemail

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Emboldened by settlements with Apple Inc and AT&T Inc, inventor Judah Klausner filed a voicemail patent lawsuit on Tuesday against Google Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and others.

A man walks past Google Inc. headquarters in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White

The inventor’s company, Klausner Technologies Inc, also named as defendants LG Electronics Inc Comverse Technology Inc, Citrix Systems Inc Embarq Corp in a patent infringement complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Tyler, Texas, according to a court filing.

Anticipating the attack, Verizon filed its own lawsuit against Klausner two weeks ago in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York that seeks to have a federal judge declare the inventor’s visual voicemail patent invalid.

“We anticipated Klausner’s action,” Verizon spokesman Jim Smith said in a statement. “We are seeking a declaration that Klausner’s visual voicemail patent is invalid and that Verizon’s system does not infringe the patent in any event.”

Verizon offers a mobile phone called Voyager built by LG Electronics that features visual voicemail.

The new case involves claims by Klausner tied to patents in various countries he began receiving in 1992 for “visual voicemail” -- applying a graphical way of interacting with voicemail messages that allow it to be used like e-mail.

In June, Apple, which recently popularized “visual voicemail” through its hit iPhone device, together with AT&T and eBay Inc, the owner of Web-based calling service Skype, settled a patent suit filed last December by Klausner.

Privately held Klausner has not disclosed financial details of the settlements or related patent licensing deals.

Klausner previously sued and won settlements from Time Warner Inc’s AOL and Vonage Holdings Corp.

Comcast Corp, which was also sued in the December case, recently agreed to a licensing deal as part of its own settlement, Klausner said in a telephone interview. Klausner remains in talks with Cablevision Systems Corp, another defendant.

U.S. wireless carrier Sprint Nextel Corp signed a licensing deal with Klausner without being sued. The contract covers voicemail features on its “Instinct” phone from Samsung Electronics Co Ltd that competes with Apple’s iPhone.

In December, Klausner sued seven companies for what he said in a news release was $360 million in damages and royalties for violating patents on technology that sends visual alerts to computers or mobile telephones when a user has a voice message and allows users to selectively retrieve messages.

The new lawsuit names nine companies and their affiliates as defendants.

A Web-based unified phone messaging start-up, Grand Central Communications Inc, which Google acquired a year ago, was also named in the suit. Other defendants include privately held cable operator Cox Communications and voice-over-Internet start-ups PhoneFusion and RingCentral, the court filing said.

Klausner first sued AOL in 2005 and has filed a succession of cases since then. The inventor said he would consider filing lawsuits against additional companies that failed to license his patents, including Web-based phone service providers, but that many smaller companies have opened settlement talks recently.

The latest complaint seeks a jury trial. The plaintiffs are represented by Dovel & Luner LLP of Santa Monica, California. Klausner, 56, is a serial inventor who licensed patents on personal electronic organizers to Japanese consumer electronics makers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Andre Grenon