VoIP was invented — I use the word advisedly, these fellows were true inventors — in Israel in about 1995. They patented the technology and the patents are assigned to the first VoIP company to offer service: VocalTec, which released the Internet Phone software application in 1995. I’d just like to toss in here that I love the fact that VocalTec is still in business. Like Skype and the Gizmo project, Vocaltec was computer only, no handset. Just microphones and sound cards and speakers. Check out this passage from a review of Internet Phone 4 in the 1996/1997 CTI Buyer’s Guide for Management (page 29 of the .pdf file):
Internet Phone includes voice mail, call holding, call waiting, muting, blocking, caller ID, and directory assistance. Other communication and transmission features of Internet Phone include whiteboarding, file transfer, cross-platform communications, text chat, direct calling and public chat rooms.
Not only could you have voice conferences with this software, you could also have video conferences with hands free, voice activation. All this and more, at least six years before Web Telephony was granted its patent. Incidentally, the (Vocaltec) review has a screen shot of the animated dialing assistant.