Call Screening Patent

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Call Screening Patent

While researching for my VoIP call screening post earlier today, I came across a patent for "call screening". Curious, I decided to check it out the filed patent and found it was filed by Nortel Networks in July 2004. Interestingly, the patent application agrees with me that hosted voicemail needs call screening and goes as far as to say service providers with hosted voicemail systems are at a competitive disadvantage when they don't have call screening. The patent app reads as follows:

The present invention relates to telephony communications, and in particular to allowing a user to screen calls by listening to a voicemail message being left in a hosted voicemail system from a telephone device.

Background of the Invention [0002] Telephone users with personal telephone answering devices can listen to callers leaving messages thereon, and during the call, decide to take the call. This highly desirable technique for screening calls is unavailable in hosted voicemail systems, because the voicemail system is a separate entity in the telephone network and is not directly associated with any individual's telephone device. In a hosted voicemail system, incoming calls that are not answered are forwarded to the voicemail system. Since many users, especially residential users, rely on the ability to screen calls, service providers with hosted voicemail systems are at a competitive disadvantage when trying to market hosted voicemail services to their subscribers.

Accordingly, there is a need to provide call screening for users subscribing to hosted voicemail services.

Yeah, no kidding 'call screening' is a desirable feature! What's even more interesting is the patent diagram makes no mention of VoIP, as seen here:
Call Screening Patent
The text of the patent itself makes no mention of VoIP, so this is strictly traditional PSTN hosted voicemail call screening. Earlier today I griped about the lack of real-time call screening in VoIP services, such as Vonage & Packet8. It's not that hard, especially if using software. You should be able to easily setup a 3-way conference call via SIP to enable call screening. That is, one leg is the caller, the second leg is your phone, and the last leg is special call screening software running on your PC. You just send a SIP Invite to the PC, have the software auto-accept the SIP invite and connect legs #2 & #3. If the user accepts the call, simply connect/conference leg #1.

Now most people don't want to perform call screening on their PC. Most would want to do it via the phone, especially since the PC may not be on or nearby. Well, that's easy enough as well. First, you ring the user's phone, then after X number of rings, the phone stops ringing and the hosted voicemail system prompts the caller to leave a message. Simultaneously, the hosted voicemail system calls the phone again (via another SIP Invite) and this time tells the phone to play a special ringtone to indicate a caller is leaving a message. Hearing the special ringtone, the user can pick up the phone, be conferenced into the voicemail message being left (with mic muted) and if the user presses a touch-tone they can instantly pull the caller out and their mic is unmuted. Simple!

Damn, between the "special" ringtone to indicate the opportunity to screen the caller and the "instant" ability to pull a caller out of a hosted VoIP voicemail system, I should patent these! The special ringtone can even work with analog phones connected to ATAs simply by varying the length of the ring voltage, i.e. two super-quick rings.

Now while I didn't go crazy searching the patent database, I did look around and didn't see a patent for "VoIP call screening". Hmmm. Very interesting... Ok you patent trolls, here's an opportunity for you. File a patent for "VoIP call screening". In fact, file one for "hosted VoIP call screening" and another one for "customer premise VoIP call screening" that works on customer premise Voice over IP phone systems (IP-PBXs), such as Asterisk. Then when you rake in millions from patent extortion, just make sure you show me some lovin'. After all, I did give you the idea. If you don't show me some lovin' then may your guilty conscience eat you up. Oh wait, patent trolls with a guilty conscience? What in blazes am I thinking?

Update: (12:20pm)
I neglected to mention that there are some hosted voicemail providers offering call screening. They aren't necessarily VoIP or leveraging VoIP technology though. Some examples include CallWave, GrandCentral, and Ring Central. Figured they were still worth mentioning.

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