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Summary:

Apple has reportedly made settlement offers to Samsung and Motorola in their disputes over whether Android phones infringe on Apple’s patents. Should those offers actually turn into agreements, it will mark a noteworthy change in both Apple’s negotiating strategy and the mobile industry in general.

Patent
photo: Flickr / adulau

Could mobile patent peace finally be around the corner? Apple(a aapl) has reportedly presented settlement offers to Android partners Motorola and Samsung, and if Apple is serious, it could be a pivotal moment in the modern mobile computing industry.Patent

Dow Jones reports that Apple has made settlement offers to Motorola and Samsung that propose ending their differences over patent infringement claims for around $5 to $15 in royalty payments per Android handset. It’s not clear when those offers were made or in which venue — curiously missing details — but the mere notion that Apple has even considered settling its many patent disputes is noteworthy.

Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously vowed to “destroy Android,” but his successor, Tim Cook, is thought to be a more practical leader. The report notes — as did I back in October — that there’s not really much upside to Apple’s dogged pursuit of these lawsuits. After all, it’s not like Android device makers are hurting iPhone or iPad sales or profits.

Patent lawsuits are messy, expensive, and distracting. And the current situation is so complicated that merely winning a few more decisions than you lose isn’t good enough: Apple has prevailed on just one patent claim in the U.S. before the International Trade Commission and HTC pledged to work around that minor claim before the ink was dry on the decision. Plenty of others are pending, but it could take years to resolve these issues, at which point the Android devices in question may have faded into the sunset.

By establishing royalty payments, Apple could follow Microsoft’s lead and reap additional profits from Android while also discouraging companies like Samsung and Motorola (well, maybe not Motorola) from making Android hardware because of the excessive royalty costs. It would have the effect of punishing Android vendors for “stealing” ideas from the iPhone without the risk of prolonged litigation, in which only the lawyers (and their consultants) win.

Google’s Andy Rubin said last year that he hoped for “patent peace” in 2012. The mere presence of settlement talks doesn’t guarantee anything, but if Apple isn’t just throwing numbers around he may actually get his wish.

  1. Of course Android is hurting iPhone and iPad sales. That was the whole point behind Apple’s lawsuits and trying to ban Android devices.

    And asking $5-$15 per Android device… um WHAT? Apple is asking Android manufacturers to pay them $5-$15 per device? Clearly they are nuts.

    And Apple knows that this is outrageous. It’s a marketing PR garbage as they always use to try to pain themselves as someone who is trying to make a compromise by suggesting idiotic things. Why in the hell would Android makers pay Apple anything? For rounded corners and slide to unlock?

    Give me a break.

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    1. Microsoft gets $5 for every HTC device sold. The agreement with Samsung is unknown but it is assumed at $5-10 per device. Do you expect Apple to get less?

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    2. George Wedding Tuesday, March 6, 2012

      I think the point of Apple’s lawsuits is to prevent Google vendors from getting away with willful patent infringements. Once Apple filed and received patents for innovative new technologies, it was obligated to defend them or lose them when Android manufacturers began the copying Apple’s work. As you might guess, I believe it is clear to most reasonable people that Android phones are derivative of the original iPhone in at least some obvious ways that only begin with touchscreen operations and the look-and-feel.

      For its part, Google also is obligated to protect its own innovative telecommunications patents — except that it hasn’t applied for many. Instead, it bought existing patents because it didn’t really invent anything new with Android. Now, Google appears to be trying to defending its camp using old patents, some of which appear to be valid and some of which may not, because they may be exhausted under FRAND licensing terms. Consequently, Google’s position could prove to be a weak.

      One or both camps may be asking for licensing fees, but both really are just jockeying for position. Either the two sides will find some middle ground and come to terms or the courts eventually will establish the terms. Either way, this is the system that is in place for all to use.

      So, the object of Apple’s lawsuits really is more complicated: to win court rulings (and damages) for the various infringement claims AND/OR position itself to force the mutually-agreed payment of fair licensing fees for both sides AND to protect itself from routine infringement claims from competitors that may or may not prove valid.

      You complain about the fees Apple reportedly MAY have proposed, yet you have nothing to say about what may be outrageous fees that Motorola (and Google) ARE ASKING (as reported by court documents) Apple to pay (up to about $23 per device) for questionable patents that already may be covered by FRAND terms and/or previous licenses sold to Qualcom or other Apple vendors. And Google did not even invent anything new.

      So, give ME a break.

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      1. “And Google did not even invent anything new.”

        Not sure Apple did either. As a long time smart phone user, some of my older phones still can do things my iPhone can’t. Care to name an actual invention on the iPhone that hasn’t existed in another shape or form previously?

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  2. This is a smart move on Apple’s part. The numbers are too high.
    A dollar a device…might be ok. The weakness of most of Apple’s patents is being exposed. The more Apple patents that fall…the less leverage Apple has. Apple…give it up and move on.

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  3. You’re completely mistaken if you believe that a patent holder is obligated to protect his IP rights. They can let them lanquish for years before acting on them or just not protest them at all. A fair percentage of patents are even forgotten about when the 3.5 year renewal fees come due. I’ll simply assume you’ve mistaken patents for trademarks.

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  4. Apple’s willingness to negotiate settlement may be on more pragmatic legal grounds. Previous statements that Apple release to the effect of “we don’t want XYS’s money, we just want to stop XYZ from stealing our ideas”, were framed in a way that strongly suggested the stifling of innovation. The patent system was created to stimulate innovation. Thus a company being so open about mis-using the patent system would increasingly expose itself to legal attack on their patents through misconduct, which as I understand it can in extreme cases result in the patents in question being struck down on that basis alone. Thus an obstructionist Apple would have a lot to lose.

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