I'm really beginning to wonder just what it takes to receive a patent that keeps it unique. Just last week Vonage received a patent for virtual phone numbers. Now today 8x8, a company which has a very rich patent portfolio has received one too for what is "Virtual Telephone Extension Patent by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office."
From the press release from 8x8:
The patent relates to methods of routing communications to users and associated equipment by utilizing a user identifier that serves as a virtual extension number. By utilizing the invention described by the patent, users can remotely direct their calls to communication devices at various geographic, voicemail and email destinations.
Claim 14 of the new patent reads, "A method for routing telephone calls to communication devices using telephone networks, each communication device having a unique device identifier, the method comprising: assigning identifier data to each of a plurality of users, the identifier data for each user including at least two unique telephone numbers and at least one unique device identifier; and in response to receiving a call through one of the telephone networks, matching a telephone number in the call with one of the at least two telephone numbers assigned to a particular user, and switching the call to a destination communication device designated by the device identifier in the identifier data for the particular user." The issued patent contains twenty claims and was filed in 2002.
Now, going back to the Vonage patent:
Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG), a leading provider of high-quality voice and messaging services over broadband networks, today announced the grant of a virtual phone number patent.
The patent -- No. 7,680,262 – titled "Method and Apparatus for Placing a Long Distance Call Based on a Virtual Phone Number," allows consumers to communicate to distant locations without incurring long distance or international calling charges. This is Vonage's second patent related to the use of virtual phone numbers. Vonage's first patent directed to the use of virtual phone numbers -- No. 7,386,111 -- was granted on June 10, 2008.
Virtual phone numbers allow people outside a Vonage customer's local calling area to call for the price of a local call. Vonage customers can choose a virtual phone number in the calling area of a parent, relative or friend or wherever they want to establish a "virtual" presence. Vonage offers virtual phone numbers across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and in more than 14 other countries.
I'm sure there's a fine line of distinction between the two, but in my mind, both companies now hold patents to do the same thing.