US 6463145 Computer-implemented call forwarding options and methods therefor in a unified messaging system

ABSTRACT – A computer-implemented method for permitting a subscriber of a call forwarding service to customize call forwarding parameters associated with the call forwarding service. The call forwarding service being configured to permit the subscriber to specify whether a call received at a telephone number associated with a given account of the call forwarding service be forwarded to a forwarding telephone number. The call forwarding parameters includes a call forwarding enable option and the forwarding telephone number. The method includes providing a subscriber communication profile database. The subscriber communication profile database has therein the account pertaining to the subscriber. The account includes the call forwarding parameters for the subscriber. The method further includes visually displaying the call forwarding parameters on a display terminal coupled to a data-centric network, using a computer server coupled to exchange data with the subscriber communication profile database, when the subscriber employs the display terminal to access the account. There is also included receiving from the subscriber via the display terminal a first change to the call forwarding parameters. The first change to the call forwarding parameters pertains to at least one of the call forwarding enable option and the forwarding telephone number. Further, there is included updating the first change to the account in the subscriber communication profile database, wherein subsequent calls to the given account are handled in accordance with parameters present in the subscriber communication profile database after the update.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to communication services available via a data-centric network (i.e., a network that carries digital data) and a telephony-centric network (i.e., a network that carries telephony information such as voice, fax, pager, and the like). More particularly, the present invention relates to a centralized facility and methods therefor that allow a subscriber of various communication services to review and customize his communication options, in an interactive and simplified manner, via either the data-centric network or the telephony-centric network.

Both the data-centric network (e.g., a distributed computer network) and the telephony-centric network (e.g., public telephone network) have existed for some time. Broadly speaking, the data-centric network (such as the Internet) may be thought of as a global computer network that connects millions of computer terminals all over the world in such a way that digitized information can be exchanged irrespective of the different hardware and software platforms that may be utilized to gain access to the data-centric network. People and businesses around the world use the data-centric network to retrieve information, communicate and conduct business globally, and access a vast array of services and resources on-line. In a similar manner, the telephony-centric network (whether wired or wireless) may also be thought of as another global network that connects the millions of telephony devices (such as voice-oriented telephones, pagers, facsimile machines, voice mail boxes, and the like) together in such a way that a user at one of the telephony devices can readily transmit information to other telephony devices irrespective of geographic boundaries.

In the past, these two networks existed as separate domains. This is because the widely accessible data-centric network is a fairly recent phenomenon. For decades, the only network that has been available to the masses is the analog teltphony-centric network, starting with the telegraph network of the nineteenth century. However, as more and more of the services traditionally offered through the telephony-centric network are being offered in a digital format by the data-centric network, the distinction between the data-centric network and the telephony-centric network begins to blur. Irrespective of whether these two networks exist as separate networks physically or conceptually going forward, the legacies of their separate existence can be seen in the various different communication services and communication devices that currently exist.

By way of example, there exist many different communication devices and services available today to allow a person to communicate to another person, e.g., telephones, facsimile machines, electronic mail (e-mail), pagers, voice mail, and the like. Generally speaking, a telephone is a communication device employed to transmit and receive speech and other sounds. A facsimile machine is a communication device to transmit and receive graphical data. A pager is a highly portable device that allows its user to receive data, and in some cases transmit limited data to a pager service provider. A voice mail box is essentially a service that allows one person to temporarily store telephone messages for retrieval by another. E-mail services allow e-mail users to transmit and receive data from computer terminals connected to the data-centric network. All these devices and services are well known in the art and will not be elaborated further for the sake of brevity.

Generally speaking, most of these devices and services have many options associated with how they function. These options allow a user specialized functionality. One particular option is call forwarding. Call forwarding refers to the ability to reroute calls originally destined for one telephone to a different telephone. Call forwarding is desired since nowadays, people are constantly on the move from one location to another. It is not uncommon for people to work at multiple sites such as the home and the office. Even when people are mobile, it is important that they remain in the communication loop. For example, a person who travels may wish to forward voice calls made to his home or office telephone numbers to his cellular telephone or hotel telephone.

To accomplish the above in the current art, the person in the above example would, for example, enter a code (e.g., *72) at the telephone from which the forwarding is done, followed by the forwarded number. When an incoming call is made to the telephone number associated with the telephone from which the forwarding is done, it is routed to the outgoing number entered after the code. To undo the call forwarding, the user typically needs to be at the telephone from which the forwarding was done to enter another code to cancel the call forwarding (e.g., *75). To change the forwarded number to another forwarded number, the user also typically needs to be at the telephone from which the forwarding is done in order to cancel the forwarding as above, and re-enter the code for call forwarding (e.g., *72), plus enter the new forwarding telephone number.

The requirement that the user be present at the telephone from which forwarding is done in order to initiate, cancel, or change the call forwarding options has its disadvantages. By way of example, the user oftentimes may wish to perform the initiation, cancellation, or changing of the call forwarding option from the road but may be unable to do so due to the geographic distance from the telephone set from which forwarding originates. Furthermore, the user may sometimes not be able to access any telephone at all (due to the lack of a telephony-centric network, for example). In this case, it has not been possible for the user to edit the call forwarding options.

Another disadvantage with current call forwarding is that if the forwarded call may not connect, the call is lost. This is especially unwelcome when the forwarded party has an answering machine or voicemail set-up and the forwarding party does not.

Another disadvantage is that the user has to memorize and/or keep track of the codes used for doing call forwarding. A busy user might not bother to learn or memorize all the codes and would rather suffer the possibility of missing out on some messages than keep track of the codes and current forwarded numbers. In this case, the communication services that he owns are not employed to their fullest potential.

Also, another disadvantage is that the user cannot set non-fax call forwarding on without also turning fax-forwarding on. This is because current call forwarding schemes do not distinguish between a fax call and any other calls (e.g., voice calls) for the purpose of forwarding. This is particularly problematic when the forwarding number has no fax receiving capability while the forwarded number has.

Yet another disadvantage is that every time the number code is used, the telephone company (telco) charges the user. For example, if the user selects *72 five times in one day, the telephone company will charge the user five times.

In view of the forgoing there are desired improved techniques for allowing a user of communication services to review and customize the call forwarding options associated with these services in a simplified, convenient and cost effective manner.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates, in one embodiment, to a computer-implemented control center for permitting a subscriber of a unified messaging system to customize call forwarding parameters associated with a call forwarding service. The call forwarding service is configured to permit the subscriber to specify whether a call received at a telephone number associated with a given account of the unified messaging system be forwarded to a forwarding telephone number. The call forwarding parameters includes a call forwarding enable option and the forwarding telephone number. The computer-implemented control center includes a subscriber communication profile database. The subscriber communication profile database has therein the account pertaining to the subscriber. The account includes the call forwarding parameters for the subscriber. The computer-implemented control center includes a computer server coupled to exchange data with the subscriber communication profile database. The computer server is configured to visually display the call forwarding parameters on a display terminal coupled to a data-centric network when the subscriber employs the display terminal to access the computer-implemented control center. The computer server also is configured to receive from the subscriber via the display terminal a first change to the call forwarding parameters and to update the first change to the account in the subscriber communication profile database, wherein subsequent calls to the given account are handled in accordance with parameters present in the subscriber communication profile database after the update.

The invention relates, in another embodiment, to a computer-implemented method for permitting a subscriber of a call forwarding service to customize call forwarding parameters associated with the call forwarding service. The call forwarding service being configured to permit the subscriber to specify whether a call received at a telephone number associated with a given account of the call forwarding service be forwarded to a forwarding telephone number. The call forwarding parameters includes a call forwarding enable option and the forwarding telephone number. The method includes providing a subscriber communication profile database. The subscriber communication profile database has therein the account pertaining to the subscriber. The account includes the call forwarding parameters for the subscriber. The method further includes visually displaying the call forwarding parameters on a display terminal coupled to a data-centric network, using a computer server coupled to exchange data with the subscriber communication profile database, when the subscriber employs the display terminal to access the account. There is also included receiving from the subscriber via the display terminal a first change to the call forwarding parameters. The first change to the call forwarding parameters pertains to at least one of the call forwarding enable option and the forwarding telephone number. Further, there is included updating the first change to the account in the subscriber communication profile database, wherein subsequent calls to the given account are handled in accordance with parameters present in the subscriber communication profile database after the update.

These and other features of the present invention will be described in more detail below in the detailed description of the invention and in conjunction with the following figures.

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