Vonage Lost in Patent Thicket

Previously I noted that even if allocating spectrum won’t work to keep small players from disseminating traditional services such as radio over the Internet, nonetheless copyright could do the trick. And patents can serve the same purpose, this time regarding Voice over IP (VoIP):
Vonage, which recently lost a court battle against Verizon Communications, is also facing a patent lawsuit from Sprint Nextel. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, in October 2005 will likely go to trial in September, a Sprint representative said Wednesday.

Vonage legal woes continue, by Marguerite Reardon, C|Net News.com, March 14, 2007 1:32 PM PDT

Ah, patent thickets! A traditional way to keep out the upstarts.

As Yochai Benkler notes in his book, The Wealth of Networks, in the early 20th century, patents around radio were owned by so many different entities that none of them could cut through the thicket and go commercial until the U.S. Navy and later Sec. of Commerce Herbert Hoover stepped in and got the various patent holders to license to one another.

In this case, there’s not much incentive for Verizon and Sprint Nextel to do that unless Vonage comes up with a patent they need, or unless the courts or the FCC or the FTC or Congress take some action regarding restraint of trade.