j2 Global Communications, a provider of outsourced communications services – including internet fax – has filed patent infringement lawsuits against three competitors Protus IP Solutions, Captaris Inc and EasyLink Services International. As far as the UK legal market is concerned, Capartis – the company behind the RightFax network fax system – is probably the best known of the three.

According to j2, the three suits (filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas) each allege that Protus, Captaris and EasyLink violate j2 patents for “Scalable Architecture for Transmission of Messages over a Network.” j2 Global says it is seeking monetary damages for past infringement, injunctive relief prohibiting Protus, Captaris and EasyLink from continuing to infringe the patents, among other remedies. In addition to these cases, j2 has pending patent infringement cases against Protus relating to various other patents before California and Canadian courts, and j2 Global has a pending patent infringement case against Captaris relating to a separate patent in a case pending in Georgia.

“j2 Global has heavily invested in internet fax and enhanced messaging intellectual property over the past decade, enabling us to deliver powerful value-added solutions to our customers,” said Jeff Adelman, V-P & General Counsel of j2 Global. “These lawsuits reflect our ongoing commitment to shareholders and customers alike to protect our IP by enforcing it against companies using it without our permission.”

The most aggresive response has come from Protus, who describe the lawsuit as “another meritless case by j2” and go on to suggest that j2 are resorting to litigation because sales of j2's own eFax service are being hurt by the rival MyFax system from Protus. EasyLink issued the more conservative statement that “We are looking into this complaint and taking
all measures necessary to ensure that we resolve this matter in a timely

In terms of background, until j2 had a patents infringement claim against another fax services vendor – Venali – upheld in another court, the view was that the IP rights to internet fax technology were in the public domain or at least 'FOSS' (free & open source software). And, before you think this is some kind of monopolistic shakeup of the market by j2, it is worth noting that most fax spamming services use unlicensed rip-offs of j2 technology.

In case the name sounds familiar, j2 Global are currently making big strides into the UK large law firms fax market – with several deals with top 25-sized firms already concluded and more under negotiation.

But isn't fax a legacy technology – so why outsource it? j2's argument is that it is precisely because it is a legacy technology that it makes sense to outsource – let someone else worry about supporting the infrastructure, you can still send & receive faxes to the desktop, but the firm can throw out all its old fax servers and the network cabling used to support it.