Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My latest ISSUED Patent – Conferencing Bridge on steroids

By: Alon Cohen

I was just informed (by a marketing company none-the-less selling plucks) that my US Patent 7742587 filed (November 25 2002) was issued (June 22, 2010), i.e. accepted as an official patent by the US Patent office (USPTO) it only took 8!!! years - wow.

In spite the fact that I have no idea who this patent is assigned to those days, as it was sold repeatedly between different companies, I still keep to myself the bragging rights for the idea.

The concept is about providing a more sophisticated set of capabilities to a conferencing bridge. What we all know is a bridge is a place where all participants hear each other unless the moderator decides to mute everyone.

In my invention every participants has full control over what he/she can hear and control over about who might hear each participant. Sounds a bit hard to manage? True! It is even harder to grasp when implementing. However, this is just the underlying technology at the base of it. Where in fact it enables nifty features, that when combined with a nice user interface (even on a mobile device) become very powerful.

Here are some examples:

Imagine you are a sales person about to call a prospect to close a big deal, you know you have good potential to sell but this customer is highly technical. You do not want to have an engineer talk to your prospect, as you master the art of selling in ways your engineer will never understand. So what do you do? How do you make that work?

You call your bridge and have the bridge call your prospect (yes you can do that), then you call the in the engineer in the group and enter team consultation mode. The Eng. can hear the prospect you hear both and the prospect only hears you the closing master. When the prospect comes up with a hard technical question about “MPLS convergence time”, your engineer gives you the answer and you look like the best sales person in the world. If you need a finance person to back you up on discount you can add that he/she to your group of consultants in the same way, where the group can talk among them without the prospect hearing a thing besides you. Deal closed you nailed another prospect.

Or say when you are in a board meeting conference call and you need your lawyer as personal consultant, so that the lawyer hears everyone but when he talks it is only to you. (Would you rather pay that lawyer to come sit with you or would you rather call him when you need him?)

Now imagine that any of the participants can invoke all those different modes any time, all at the same time, all using any phone or cell phone. The complexities of the technology dealing with managing privacy, managing echoes, suppressing DTMF tones, all implemented in software only, is just few steps above what is implemented today in the most complex bridges out there.

One of the uses I had envisioned at the time was an always-on scenario. A distributed team that collaborates on a time-critical project has the phone open day on and while they can still use the phone to receive and make new calls. The bridge keeps the private calls in private and can keep the conference at low volume in the back so that participants can jump in to the session when needed ask a quick question and progress fast in what they need to do to finish the task.

It is like bringing all the people into a war-room but enabling them to consult with one another on the side. Enabling participants to bring in new people to consult with. Get status calls from the field and decide if to share the callers with the team or not, step out and call home and perform any audio related communication task you can think of that they could have done had they been at the same room while in this case, they are in fact, located far from one another.

Think of it as windows operation system for audio. You can have windows at the back at low volume and main conversation at the front. The technology extends further to situations where the participants are using different audio Codecs, and still each enjoy the best quality and not the lowest common denominator due to the fact that each has in a sense its own mixing element in the bridge controlled by the participant to mix what that specific participant wants (even set individual volumes).

At the same time, each participant can control where his own audio will feed into, to enable privacy. All that controlled by high level features that manage and hide the complexity with a small set of commands delivered via DTMF, a web interface or even a mobile device.

Moreover, it can also do a normal conference call, and you will not know the difference.

It is tough concept to sell, but much fun to use. What made it all possible was a group of dedicated engineers product managers and other team players that actually made it work. What killed it were mostly the economy downturn of the first internet bubble and a one short sighted VC, who did not think a proposal from Nortel to include the technology in every office PBX, was worth the time to write a non-binding letter affirming their intentions to back the company up going on. In addition, the deal did not fit the VC hidden agenda to control bigger portions of the company (how can you take bigger portions if the company can hold its own?). Oh well. The nice thing is that the technology survived, moving on from one company to another, merged into the video conferencing space, and moved on with one dedicated very talented programmer Mr. Igor who was hired along with the patent and IP to make it work in new environments.