I am not an expert on patent law. But I've read some things that makes me question the above.
There are two excellent histories of IBM published by MIT Press, "IBM's Early Computers" and "IBM's 360 and early 370 computers". I recommend them.
Anyway, these books go into quite of bit of detail over patents, what IBM could get, what it couldn't get, what it was forced to engineer around, what it had pay through the nose for license rights, etc. All these stories, covering not only computers, but components, manufacturing, chemistry, and physics, seem to me to relate very well to the situation of today.
Researchers filed for hundreds of patents, most of which would never be of any value. But that's what researchers did. Even in WW II secret research labs arranged for patents out of stuff that was discovered (see Feynman "Surely you're joking").
As to patent examiners being familiar with the technology in 1957, I'm not sure that was the case either. Technology was exploding in the postwar era. Many big companies maintained research staffs and were patenting things like crazy. Just handling the IBM, Bell Labs, RCA, and other electronics patents alone was enormous. Everything related to computers was brand new; how would examiners know what existed? They were going from improved radio tubes to integrated circuit trips. I can't help but wonder if the patent office was overwhelmed in the1950s.
Patents then were also quite controversial. Who held the rights to core memory? Several inventors, big litigation. Who held the rights to the first computer? Eckert-Mauchly had to fight it out with Atansoff-Berry. Earlier, some television and FM radio patents were disputed for years.
I think it's important to note that IBM and Bell Labs were under consent decrees where they were obligated to license out their patents for a reasonable sum. If we were still in the regulated era. Verizon would be obligated to do likewise and this Vonage problem wouldn't have come up at all because Vonage would be allowed to use Verizon patents. My continuing point is that society chose to dump the regulated era.
Why didn't CDC patent it? As mentioned, these companies had large patent staffs and filed for whatever they could, even if it seemed worthless or trivial at the time. Some old IBM materials research patents turned out valuable years later for chip construction. Some stuff IBM patented from the SSEC, which was obsolete the day it was born, proved to be valuable later on as well.
I won't deny money helps a lot, but let's be clear Vonage is not a single guy working out of his garage; it's a large ongoing concern with plenty of resources. And let's not forget the huge AT&T lost in court to pipsqueak MCI over cream skimming.
The other issue that troubles me greatly is the claim that lay juries aren't capable to judge this stuff. Here's why I question that claim:
When I was in college, I had an excellent comp-sci teacher for application design. When we wrote up a proposal, he mandated that (1) absolutely no buzzwords were to be used, (2) that it'd be in plain English, and (3) any claims of "improved" had to be carefully quantified. We also had to provide for any troubles and how our system would in the end be superior to whatever was being done now. We found out it was a lot harder to do that than we expected. But it made us much better designers. I wonder if others had that kind of training.
Any lawyer with half a brain engaged by a technology company, like Vonage, should be able to explain technical stuff in layman's terms. Everyday people know what a table and a directory are. We've all used a telephone book, for example. If Verizon patented a certain kind of directory structure (e.g. "using thumbcut indexes"), explain it. (Oddly, in this discussion, no one has referred to the actual patent text and bothered to explain it in simple English). Let's remember that one of Franklin Roosevelt's successes was being able to explain complex issues so that the common man could understand him. "Would you haggle about loan terms if your neighbor needed your hose to put out a fire?" FDR's big advantage over Herbert Hoover was FDR's great communication skills and Hoover's lack thereof. (Hoover was spending a lot of money to alleviate the Depression, but no one knew it.)
Like I said, I'm not a patent expert. There's a lot of things -- now and in the past -- that were very trivial yet patened and lucrative for the inventor. A colleague went to the patent site and just for laughs looked up "athletic supporter". Turned out there were quite a few modern patents on it. I don't know what for.
As to the issues in question here, why didn't whoever was the first to develop them patent them? As I said, missing the boat on patents is not anything new. IBM failed to patent or copyright some very valuable developments in the 1950s and they lost out accordingly. If IBM missed the boat, certainly Vonage could've also.
At the same time, supposedly patented IBM technology was easily circumvented. IBM > The key here is that the patents should not have been granted,
Well, that's your personal opinion, obviously the court didn't agree.
In my personal opinion, it was wrong for MCI to skim of the most profitable toll service while leaving AT&T with mandated low rates for high cost toll service. Obviously the court didn't agree. The courts don't always do what we think they should.
The traditional Bell companies are certainly not infailable. But they have a good track record. And yes, I most certainly do support them, and here's why:
As a customer, I obviously want the most bang for the buck. I've got enough gray hair to know there's no such thing as a free lunch, and something too good to be true usually is.
I've seen many newcomers come into the marketplace with whiz-bang products and services. Almost always they were over hyped and the disadvantages carefully masked over. Some discount products were fine (a la fast food) if you knew what you were getting and content with that. But some consumer foods were rather unhealthy, thank goodness the govt mandated "nutrition labels" on foods so we can see how much added sugar and salt and other crap they threw in.
As to telecom, naturally I want to save money. I tried VOIP and it sucked. I've tried other products, other services. If they work out better, great (I like Panasonic equipment, for example). But so often in telecom the claims were hollow. I couldn't get through to customer service, the rates had some pretty nasty micro-fine print, etc. The wireless industry pushed digital on us, and we customers learned later it wasn't "better" for us, it was actually worse than analog. In long distance there was lots of crap pulled, still being pulled. (I don't know why Verizon pay phones in NYC offer 25c coin long distance but elsewhere require a calling card and if you just dial 0+ the rates are enormous.)
So, sure Verizon isn't perfect, but I'll take them over these other fly-by-night outfits. They provide me good service at a fair price.