Some heartening news for Android device makers today from the mouth of Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt: Google (NSDQ: GOOG) will continue to back those of them facing legal disputes over patents. But that’s not stopping those device makers from shoring up their patent licensing deals, just in case. The latest is LG (SEO: 066570) signing up to have access to Intellectual Ventures’ trove of patents.
Schmidt’s remarks were made on day-three of his trip to Asia, when he visited Taipei. “We tell our partners, including the ones here in Taiwan, we will support them,” said Schmidt (via Reuters).
That support will not be in the form of financial backing. Rather, Google will offer tesitmony, advice and access to its own patents. That is currently is a small number that one estimate put at less than 600 back in Janaury of this year, but could be bumped up by some 17,000 patents when and if the Motorola Mobility acquisition is approved.
Yet it’s unclear what that Google’s “support” has meant up to now.
At the moment, Samsung is embroiled some 20 lawsuits against Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) over patent disputes, and HTC is also facing cases in several jurisdictions, as is Motorola (NYSE: MMI).
But if Apple is the rock here, Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) is the hard place for these handset makers. Eleven of Google’s biggest Android device partners have signed on to a kind of “Android tax”, licensing Microsoft’s patents to avoid getting taken to court by the Redmond, Washington software giant over their use of Android.
Some Android device makers are not agreeing to Microsoft licenses without a fight: that’s made clear enough in the Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) case. The company is currently being sued by Microsoft in a patent suit and the bookseller offered up a presentation detailing what it believes are Microsoft’s anti-competitive practices in patents (via Geek Wire).
In light of all these cases, it’s hard to believe Motorola’s 17,000-odd patents would give device makers the protection they need against litigation: after all, Motorola Mobility is also involved in an Apple suit of its own. That seems to imply that it may not.
Given all of the above, it comes as no surprise to hear of one more licensing deal signed between Android partner LG and patent holder Intellectual Ventures.
Under the agreement, LG will now have access to some 35,000 patents held by IV. That is the same deal that IV has already signed with RIM, Samsung, HTC and Pantech, among others. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
LG already has its own trove of patents — not clear how many — but it has already been on the receiving end of a court case over patent infringement so you can see why it might want to beef up its defense. In 2009, Kodak successfully sued the company over camera technology and LG had to pay Kodak $414 million in damages (via BBC).
IV says that the patents are not only useful for defending LG in court but also to give the company a basis for future product development.
Ironically, IV is currently suing Motorola over patent infringement as well.