Meta Inc., the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, was found by a federal jury in Austin, Texas, to have infringed on two patents held by Voxer Inc., a walkie talkie messaging app founded by a former Army Green Beret.
The social media giant was ordered to pay nearly $175 million in damages.
Voxer launched the app in 2011, which was named Best Overall App in the First Annual Silicon Valley Business App Awards in 2013. In 2012, Facebook approached Voxer about a potential collaboration that led to Voxer sharing its patents and proprietary information with the company.
“When early meetings did not result in an agreement, Facebook identified Voxer as a competitor although Facebook had no live video or voice product at the time,” court filings read. “Facebook revoked Voxer’s access to key components of the Facebook platform and launched Facebook Live in 2015 followed by Instagram Live in 2016. Both products incorporate Voxer’s technologies and infringe its patents.”
A Meta spokesperson challenged the ruling in a statement sent to technology publication TechCrunch, saying the social media giant will continue to press the issue through the courts.
“We believe the evidence at trial demonstrated that Meta did not infringe Voxer’s patents,” Meta’s spokesperson said in the statement. “We intend to seek further relief, including filing an appeal.”
Tom Katis, founder and former Voxer executive, started the company due to what he called a “frustration with military communications” in an interview with Bloomberg.
Enlisting after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Katis served as communications sergeant with U.S. Army Special Forces.
In 2003, his unit was ambushed, and he said he felt the pressing need for better communication capabilities while he was trying to coordinate medevacs and reinforcements, according to Katis’ introduction in the initial complaint.
“The military radios we had were the best in the world, but trying to communicate effectively was always a challenge,” Katis said. “For years after coming back...I kept trying to figure out how you could build something better, how you could use software to solve some of these problems.”
The Texas jury found that Facebook Live and Instagram Live incorporated two pieces of Voxer’s technologies that involve streaming media over networks.
Meta countered in court filings that “Facebook has prioritized live video messaging since the launch of Facebook Live and Instagram Live, with one report identifying Facebook Live as Facebook’s ‘top priority.’”
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.