Report: Apple floats settlement talks in patent disputes


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.

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