CosmoCom, a software supplier which holds a two US patents on IP (Internet Protocol) contact centre technology, is now considering moves to defend those patents.
The company invented technology for building customer contact centres which use IP data networks, according to Steve Kowarsky, executive vice-president at CosmoCom.
The technology allows for the integration of new access methods, such as e-mail and text messaging, in addition to voice calls. It also allows for "virtual" contact centres, in which operators can work from distributed facilities or home offices, Kowarsky said.
Cost savings, geographical flexibility and the prospect of improved employee and customer satisfaction are starting to drive small and medium-sized businesses toward IP-based contact centres, and the new technology will be embraced by large enterprises and take the market by storm in 2006, according to Donna Fluss, principal at DMG Consulting.
Cisco Systems is a player in the pure IP contact centre business along with CosmoCom, and the biggest players in the traditional circuit-switched call centre industry, including Avaya and Nortel Networks, also are embracing the new technology, she said.
Privately held CosmoCom was founded in 1996, and its patent claims are effective back to 1 April of that year, Kowarsky said. It sells software that is used for corporations' private call centres and for call centre services offered by carriers, including BT.
CosmoCom's latest patent, No. 6,614,783, entitled "Multimedia telecommunication automatic call centre distribution system using internet/PSTN (public switched telephone network) call routing", was issued 2 September 2003.
It is a "continuation" of an earlier CosmoCom patent issued in 2000. The later patent contains stronger claims, he said. Its scope is fairly broad, including methods for receiving and automatically directing voice calls, multimedia calls and electronic messages along with information about the caller.
In the year since the patent was issued, CosmoCom has been evaluating how to act upon it, Kowarsky said. The company is now starting to examine whether any suppliers are violating the patents.
"We really have to go one by one and examine how much they might be infringing on our technology," said Ari Sonesh, who is chairman, president and chief executive officer of CosmoCom and is named as an inventor on the patents.
If CosmoCom finds suppliers violating the patents, it hopes to reach licensing deals with them, though it will go to court if necessary, Sonesh said.
The company is not setting out to stop suppliers from using its technology, he said. "We certainly don't want to impede the development of this industry," Sonesh added.
A licensing move by CosmoCom is not likely to stall the industry, though if other suppliers do not believe they are violating CosmoCom's patents, there could be court battles, DMG's Fluss said.
"This is par for the course in the software industry," she said.
The danger from an effort like this doesn't lie only with the possible targets of litigation, according to Steven Frank, a partner at Boston law firm.
"Any time you enforce a patent, you risk the other side invalidating it" in court, Frank said. However, if cases in other industries are any indication, CosmoCom's move will not derail the whole sector.
"It usually doesn't stifle an industry, because it's just a matter of price. What it might do is just raise the cost of doing business," Frank said.
Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service