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The internet phone provider Vonage is hanging on for dear life, somehow fending off a Titanic-like doom. Hauled into court by Verizon, Vonage was found guilty of patent infringements. Although fined $58 million penalty and forced to abandon any infringing technology, the VOIP Internet-telephone service provider overturned a ruling that would have barred it from conducting business altogether. Not that it's conducting business in a particularly admirable manner.

It's currently in the midst of another lawsuit accusing the company of stealing and soliciting the customer base of the now defunct Internet phone service SunRocket, after negotiations to purchase SunRocket's subscriber base and other assets fell apart.

And now Vonage is hoping to attract new customers by rolling out a copycat version of the iPhone's helpful "visual voicemail" feature, which displays voicemails in a list rather than forcing subscribers to dial into a voicemail box. Vonage's version supposedly does Apple one better by actually translating the voicemails from voice to text. Unfortunately, it works about as well as the handwriting recognition did on Apple's Newton handheld. Allen Stern of CenterNetworks tested out the system. An invitation to lunch was translated as follows:

Hey. Elements bonds a chair and it's Oh new time on Wednesday.

Vonage continues to operate at a loss, and since signups of new subscribers dropped off during the second quarter. Vonage blames the drop on having "scaled back marketing expenditures to retool its marketing campaign." It looks like copying "visual voicemail," poorly, won't be a very good marketing point. With little else to distinguish itself from the VOIP phone service offered by the likes of Comcast and Time Warner, the question is changing from "How the heck is Vonage surviving?" to "How much time does it have?"