If you follow the web conferencing industry, products, or players it is worth your time to read the following long article from Roland Rick Perry on Seeking Alpha (a website for stock investors):
Microsoft's Skype Named In Copytele Web Conferencing Patent Suit
Warning - The full article requires a free registration on Seeking Alpha and is rife with grammatical errors and typos… At times it seems as though it was machine-converted from another language. If you prefer to simply read the short press release about the lawsuit (no background analysis), you can click here.
Seeking Alpha is targeted more at the business aspects of CopyTele and their business model, which has changed from technology development and innovation to purely "patent monetization and patent assertion" – often described in the popular vernacular as "patent trolling." For a less complimentary view of the lawsuit, you can also read Ingrid Lunden's article on TechCrunch, which contains the full lawsuit filing.
In a nutshell, Microsoft bought Skype. Skype allows audio/video/data conferencing over the internet, as do many web conferencing products. CopyTele says that they hold key patents on the encryption/decryption of data transmitted between computers, which Skype takes advantage of.
If you want to get down in the weeds, the full patents referenced in the lawsuit are online at www.google.com/patents/US6856687 and www.google.com/patents/US6856686. I find them hard to interpret, but at a quick overview glance, the suit seems like a long shot.
To my layman's eyes, 6856687 seems to indicate the need for a dedicated hardware device handling the data security aspect. That should be hard to argue for when computer-based conferencing uses generalized computer hardware without "portable security devices." Patent 6856686 might be an easier argument, as it talks about "exchanging data between a plurality of suitable microprocessor based devices over a computer network." But I wonder if they will be hurt by the focus in the title and text of the patent on encrypting e-mail attachments.
Technology patent cases are long, drawn-out affairs. Getting the court to understand the inner workings of software and hardware is difficult and one can never predict a final ruling. "Common sense" is not your best guide. Often the plaintiff just hopes for a quick settlement by the deep-pockets defendant as a way to avoid the nuisance and expense of the trial.
The chilling part of the lawsuit is encapsulated in a quote from CopyTele CEO Robert Berman in the TechCrunch article. He says "This is the initiation of what will be a broader patent enforcement campaign" that could target 90 to 100 web conferencing companies.