60 Comments

Summary:

The mobile patent wars, which appeared to be dying down, just exploded like never before. It’s too soon to say if Google or its rivals will win, but one thing is certain: consumers will lose.

Mushroom cloud
photo: Shutterstock / Sergej Khakimullin

The mobile patent wars appeared to hit an apex in 2012 when Apple and Samsung slugged it out before a California jury, fulfilling Steve Jobs’ vow to “go nuclear” against Google’s Android operating system. It turns out that was just the opening act.

On Halloween, a consortium of Google rivals — Microsoft, Apple, RIM, Ericsson, and Sony — filed at least 15 lawsuits against Samsung, Huawei, HTC, LG Electronics and other manufacturers that make Android smartphones. The suits say the companies infringe on a range of basic smartphone features, ranging from email to location to hotspot capacities (a total of 7 companies plus Google are named in the 15 cases).

In the case of Samsung, the complaint (embedded below) appears to target the company’s entire product line, referring to “Samsung’s Mobile Communication Devices,” and specifically naming the Samsung Captivate and the Galaxy S III. One lawsuit names Google directly, claiming the company’s core advertising tool, AdWords, violates a patent from 2000.

As for the patents themselves, they are not actual Apple or Microsoft inventions — they once belonged to a defunct Canadian company, Nortel, that collapsed more than a decade ago. The Google rivals acquired them in 2012 when they formed a coalition known as Rockstar Bidco and bought them at auction for $4.5 billion. The auction, in turn, led Google to pay the stunning sum of $12.5 billion to acquire Motorola Mobility, and its large portfolio of patents.

The companies appear to have been threatening each other for a while — the Samsung complaint says Google’s rivals informed them about the patents in mid-2012. Now, the cold war has erupted into a legal nuclear one, as the new lawsuits amount to an effort to cripple the entire Android eco-system.

So, what happens now? Google will likely strike back with lawsuits of its own in an attempt to protect itself and the Android eco-system. The outcome will then be put before a handful of men and women in rural Texas, where the lawsuit were filed, to make a decision by jury. The fact that many of the manufacturers are Asian, not American, could provide Apple et al with a home-field advantage of sorts.

It’s too soon to say who will win, but one thing is certain: consumers will lose. Litigation at this scale costs tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars — money that could instead be based on research or design or something remotely useful. Instead, it will go to law firms, and require engineers and executives to waste days or weeks sitting through legal depositions and courtroom theatrics.

Meanwhile, if Google and the manufacturers lose a jury verdict or agree to pay a settlement, the price they pay will be passed on to consumers through higher handset prices.

The lawsuits are yet another low for America’s troubled patent system. As Joe Mullin of Ars Technica notes, this type of litigation — known as “privateering” — amounts to corporate patent trolling. While the patent system is supposed to encourage innovation by providing temporary monopolies to inventors, it has instead become a distraction and economic deadweight.

You can decide for yourself: here’s the Samsung complaint which invokes a 1998 patent for “Electronic Package Carrying an Electronic Component and Assembly of Mother Board and Electronic Package,” patents from 2000 for “Navigation Tool for Graphical User Interface”  and “Internet Protocol” and other long-ago patents from long-dead Nortel.

Clarification: this story has been amended to say that Nortel collapsed (rather than went bankrupt) more than a decade ago; the company became a penny stock in 2002 but its formal bankruptcy occurred in 2009.

Rockstar v Samsung.pdf

  1. Scott Sterling Friday, November 1, 2013

    “Meanwhile, if Google and the manufacturers lose a jury verdict or agree to pay a settlement, the price they pay will be passed on to consumers through higher handset prices.”
    –Nope. In a free market, higher costs simply reduce profits. Period.

    “It’s too soon to say who will win, but one thing is certain: consumers will lose. Litigation at this scale costs tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars — money that could instead be based on research”
    –If they lose, the fines they pay are simply money they SHOULD have spent on research in the beginning, instead go thieving. Research that Apple and the others actually did.

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    1. “Research that Apple and the orherd actually did.” Helps to read the whole article Apple fan boy. Nortel owned and did the research. Apple who has a history of stealing ideas along with the others bought them.

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      1. Which Apple ideas were stolen?

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        1. GUI from xerox
          And most of the patents aren’t even from apple or Microsoft they’re from dead companies basically

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        2. Having a tablet computer in the shape of a rectangle.

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    2. This is going after adwords technology. The technology behind those annoying ads that are generated by search results. I won’t miss them.

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      1. Ads that actually keep all the google services free of charge. You’ll be stuck with bing, yahoo, metacafe, blackberry without adsense. But I’m sure you “won’t miss them”.

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    3. “Nope. In a free market, higher costs simply reduce profits. Period.”
      — Are you kidding me? Yes, they need to compete in price, but Google has always pushed the envelope on the pricing of their devices. This will affect their ability to do so.

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      1. Yep, Google always pushed the envelope on the pricing of their devices by not paying the patent licencing fee and not spending much on researches, just copy copy.

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    4. “Research that Apple and the others actually did.”

      You obviously didn’t read, because Apple is simply doing what the other patent trolls we all hate so much do – buying patents solely for the purpose of suing.

      Maybe you don’t remember, but Apple/Rockstar only has these patents because they outbid Google on the patent sale. In fact, the Rockstar BidCo consortium was put together SOLELY to pool resources and bid against Google.

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    5. Apple never steals ideas?

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    6. Well said, thanks. Despite the flaws of the patent system, we need it.

      The idea that patent protection stifles innovation and research is silly, but people keep repeating it.

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  2. Scott Sterling Friday, November 1, 2013

    Jeff, good info, thanks. I had not heard this info anywhere else.

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  3. Ludicrous, the world is coming to a stall because of these patent trolls, one thing is clear they couldn’t care less about innovation, its all about profits, brainwashing us with the same old crap and so called ‘innovation’ also in Texas of all states.. Bribery haven.

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  4. Your full of s h i t research Apple did… Even the post says they bought the patents.
    Typical Apple fans

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    1. Apple is just trying to keep their prices on the high side of an inferior product. If the can’t do it with hardware they will attack software that was in origin free. Anything for profit.

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  5. “–If they lose, the fines they pay are simply money they SHOULD have spent on research in the beginning, instead go thieving. Research that Apple and the others actually did.”

    You plonker. These lawsuits relate to patents that Apple et al bought from a dead company like vultures, nothing to do with ‘research that Apple and the others actually did’. Some people.

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  6. What a load of crap. This nonsense should be thrown out of court to send a messsage to the patent troll losers.
    I suddenly hate Apple and Microsoft devices just that little bit more…

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  7. Biased much? Sony makes android phones as well. I also believe that Microsoft, RIM, (Now known as Blackberry), Sony and Apple are also rivals among themselves. This just seems to be they have the parents, others don’t, pay them to use it or stop at once.

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  8. Richard Torcato Friday, November 1, 2013

    Karma is a bitch isn’t it? Google had very few patents when they started. They copied/stole from everyone and when it was obvious they needed more patents they bought soon to be bankrupt Motorola. Instead of using Motorola’s patents to defend their products Google choose to sue companies with Motorola’s FRAND patents.

    Karma now has Google by the balls. This lawsuit couldn’t happen to a more deserving and evil company.

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    1. Hey, I bet even apple had little patents when they started BECAUSE NO ONE HAS PATENTS BEFORE THEY START.. You sound like an idiot.. Apple would put a patient on air if they could. They’re just mad because they can’t come up with new stuff.. I mean the biggest thing they’ve done lately is make colorful phones.. Ooo

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  9. Get a grip the lot of them are as bad as each other why not kiss make up and share the patents? That way all the apple sheep may not Have to pay hundreds for over priced old revamped technology!

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  10. Apple just needs to go in a hole and die. You think that they would be great full that the company is still around. Microsoft bailed out apple from going bankrupt in the mid 90’s. I hate apple with a passion I hope this turns into the HDDVD vs Blue ray war where this time apple is HDDVD and dies out

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