Skype’s downtime explanation could have caused new patent infringement lawsuit

The world’s most popular online video teleconferencing company, Skype, has been served with a new patent infringement lawsuit by Gradient Enterprises, alleging the way Skype has setup its network infrastructure infringes on patents it holds.

Court documents filed by Gradient Enterprises on December 21, 2010 in a New York district court cite U.S. patent number 7,669,207, a patent that relates to how information systems detect, report, and respond to network node-level events.

 Like many companies, largely for competitive reasons, Skype previously did not offer an in-depth technical look at how its infrastructure is designed, until only days ago, when the company issued an official public explanation to users following a major disruption of its service which affected millions of people worldwide.

Skype explained its network “relies on millions of individual connections between computers and phones to keep things running. Some of these computers are what we call ‘supernodes’,”

The company went on to explain a significant number of supernodes experienced a technical conflict with some versions of Skype, rendering Skype altogether unusable as the clients rely on the thousands of interdependent supernodes to create a network directory database with all Skype accounts.

When a technical problem arises when a supernode is not available, your Skype client simply attempts to connect with another supernode; however, the culprit for the down time only days ago was that such a significant number of supernodes were unavailable, that millions (but not all) users were unable to connect to an available supernode and hence could not login with their accounts.

Skype’s solution to the issue was to create “mega-supernodes” that were able to accommodate more users.

It is very possible that the general explanation made by Skype, which was made in good faith to ensure public confidence, sparked the lawsuit by Gradient, which was filed less than a day after the Skype explaination.

It is unclear if Gradient has additional technical information to actually have a solid case against Skype, as the courts would likely not find reasonable ground of infringement based on generalized technical patent abstracts.

Gradient Enterprises is a non-performing company, meaning it does not produce any goods and it does not offer any services, it merely holds a number of patents and generates revenue from licensing.

Both companies were not available for comment.

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Murad is an engineering graduate from Centennial college in Toronto, Canada. Write to [email protected]
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