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Anderson tech firm One Number files patent suit against Google

April 24, 2010

An Anderson firm that provides a “one number” service that rings all of a client’s phones has filed suit against Web giant Google, alleging Google Voice infringes on two of its patents.

One Number Corp. seeks unspecified damages in the patent complaint filed March 16 in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis.

It’s the second patent infringement suit brought by the Indiana company in the last year. It brought a similar case against California-based RingCentral, though that case was closed earlier this year after settlement talks resumed.

The latest suit involves Google Voice, a communications platform launched last year that includes voice mail and other features, such as the ability for users to sign up for a single number that rings all their phones when called.

One Number said it filed for two patents, the first in 2005, for a system allowing a person to assign a single number to multiple phones, such as one’s home, business and mobile devices.

The company offers such services on a subscription basis through its website, 1Num.com.

In its complaint, One Number alleges that a company Google acquired in 2007, GrandCentral, offered voice communications services based on “many, if not all” of the features of its system.

“The core underlying technology that drives Google Voice is almost entirely based on the infringing technology Google acquired from GrandCentral and continues to infringe on the [patents],” One Number complained.

Google has yet to file a response.

Neither of One Number’s principals, Brandon McLarty and Brian Merrill, could be reached for comment. A message left for Merrill was returned by One Number’s law firm, Indianapolis-based Krieg DeVault, which said there would be no comment.

One Number moved to Anderson’s Flagship Enterprise Center in 2006, at the time claiming about 500 customers.

“McLarty and Merrill hope to expand to 130,000 subscribers with 15 employees in three to five years,” according to a press release issued at the time of the move.

The firm no longer has an office at Flagship, according to the center, though it maintains a mailing address at the site off Interstate 69. One Number remains in business, said a Krieg DeVault spokeswoman, though she declined to provide any details about the company.

One Number made local headlines in 2006 by teaming with the U.S. Army to provide accounts to soldiers in Iraq and Qatar to improve the odds they’d reach a family member when they call home.

Company President McLarty appeared to have an ambitious business plan, at least based on comments he made four years ago to a New York venture capitalist’s Web blog, saying his technology “will be rolled into the dialect of Americans.”

“Tell me in three years that you don’t remember 1Num when you read about the sheer scope of our product and platform,” he wrote.

His predictions haven’t panned out.

If anything, it’s Google that is a household word for its new “Voice” product—and companies such as RingCentral, which hosts business-phone switching systems online.

One Number sued RingCentral for patent infringement last March in federal court in Indianapolis.

The battle escalated. Last July, RingCentral countered in a suit against One Number and McLarty that was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. RingCentral said it was founded in 1999—at least six years before McLarty founded his firm—and that it was one of the first companies to develop a virtual phone system aimed at small businesses and mobile professionals.

It alleged that, at about the time McLarty incorporated his company, he enrolled as a RingCentral customer—and months later filed his patent “making claims to features and structures that were described in the RingCentral Web pages.”

In a counterclaim, One Number said it was founded by a “small group of individuals residing in Indiana” and that the technology for one of its key patents “was developed at great personal time and expense to these individuals while working other jobs and raising families.”

Generally speaking, it’s hard to show infringement, said Mark D. Janis, a professor of law at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, in Bloomington.

He said larger technology companies often complain that they’re frequently the target of patent suits by small companies that don’t practice the patented technology, “but merely hold it in hopes of extracting royalties from others who are producing products.”•

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