Before the VirnetX case, nearly all FaceTime calls were done through a system of direct communication. Essentially, Apple would verify that both parties had valid FaceTime accounts and then allow their two devices to speak directly to each other over the Internet, without any intermediary or “relay” servers. However, a small number of calls—5 to 10 percent, according to an Apple engineer who testified at trial—were routed through “relay servers.”
Both sides in the litigation admit that if Apple routes its FaceTime calls through relay servers, it will avoid infringing the VirnetX patents. Once Apple was found to be infringing—and realized it could end up paying an ongoing royalty for using FaceTime—the company redesigned the system so that all FaceTime calls would rely on relay servers. Lease believes the switch happened in April.
“The judge kept telling them, you need to consider yourself ‘adjudicated infringers,’” said Lease. “Apple said, we don’t think we’re infringing, but we switched to 100 percent relay servers [anyhow].”
Rather than forming a direct peer-to-peer connection, because of these VirnetX patents, FaceTime now works by passing client data through an intermediary server. Apple did this even though they continue to attest that they did not infringe on VirnetX’s intellectual property. Patent politics are so weird.