After a jury unanimously ruled last September that Meta owed walkie-talkie app maker Voxer $175 million for patent infringement, Meta attempted to avoid payment by asking a judge to either overturn the jury’s verdict or Meta to give a new process. This week, a federal judge denied Meta’s request, making it likely Meta will have to pay all of those ongoing royalties for illegally copying Voxer technology and using it to power Facebook Live and Instagram Live.
Meta had apparently tried everything to avoid damages in the millions. It questioned whether the jury’s decision was reasonable, alleging that Voxer’s attorney made comments that biased the jury. In Meta’s view, no reasonable jury would have found that Meta violated Voxer’s patented video streaming and messaging technologies. Even if everyone agreed that there was an injury, Meta argued that the damage was too high and miscalculated by Voxer’s experts. Instead of paying ongoing royalties, Meta felt that either no damages or a lump sum should be paid.
In his ruling, US District Judge Lee Yeakel confirmed that there was valid evidence supporting the jury’s finding of patent infringement and that sufficient evidence supported the damages that the jury awarded Voxer.
Meta can still appeal, but a Meta spokesperson declined to tell Ars if the company will do so.
Ars couldn’t immediately reach Voxer for comment, but this week’s decision brings the company closer to the end of a decade-long legal saga that began in 2012 when Voxer first met with Facebook to discuss a potential partnership.
According to Voxer’s complaint, Voxer began developing its technology in 2006 in hopes of helping improve battlefield communications. US Army veteran Tom Katis co-founded the company who wanted to develop a live messaging and video streaming app that would help avoid interruptions in transmission that soldiers could use in the event of sudden ambushes or when needed made vulnerable by paramedics. That ambition morphed into the walkie-talkie app that Voxer launched in 2011, which was so popular it led to meetings with Facebook in 2012.
Voxer was probably thrilled to be courted by Facebook, but shortly after Voxer shared its patent portfolio and proprietary technology with the social network, the partnership fell through. When this happened, Facebook revoked Voxer’s access to its platform and viewed Voxer as a competitor while allegedly making Voxer more difficult to discover on Facebook. After that, Meta went ahead without Voxer’s involvement, launching Facebook Live in 2015 and Instagram Live in 2016.
After the launches, Voxer attempted to book another meeting with Facebook, but the social network declined to discuss alleged patent infringement. When Voxer sued in 2020, the app maker claimed that “both products contain Voxer’s technologies and infringe its patents.”
Meta has maintained in the three years since there has been no patent infringement, but notably the company has not immediately reiterated any such statements this week.
Voxer’s victory this week is credited to Katis’ patent filing forethought when he developed a bold new breed of technology he’d never seen before. In 2012, when Katis was building Voxer, he told a conference audience in Paris that he was surprised at how easy it was to patent Voxer’s technology, and quickly filed more than 75 patents in the year after the walkie-talkie app launched. Katis said he successfully patented the technology because “no one” – including Facebook – was “crazy enough” to try to develop live streaming technologies like the vision he had for Voxer.