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Android under attack: rivals unleash nuclear patent hell against Samsung, Google

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(s msft), Apple(s aapl), 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

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60 Responses to “Android under attack: rivals unleash nuclear patent hell against Samsung, Google”

  1. Apple will go under eventually……I would hope the “faithful apple users” will wake up one day and see that they are buying the same products every year. Recycled garbage made by a KID

  2. Google is more important to apple than they think. Think about it who uses yahoo or bing. Most people like Google and what about there other services like Google now, youtube, google+, hangouts, gmail, chrome, and others Google could easily pull the plug for iOS and there goes iOS crumbling down. Apple needs to watch out this could be a bad dision.

  3. Although I agree that the tech patent system as it currently exists in the US is broken, frequently abused and is often used to stifle competition, I think the article as written does not cover all the facts of this particular case. According to other articles I read on this subject Apple, MS, originally purchased the Nortel and other patents as a consortium in order to keep them out of the hands of patent trolls. Cross licensing agreements were then signed among the parties so they cannot sue each other. Supposedly Google was invited to join the consortium but refused, tried but failed to outbid Rockstar on the Nortel patents and ending up shelling out big bucks for Motorola instead as a form of “protection”. This of course does not excuse Rockstar’s filing of lawsuits against Google and various smart phone makers which could result in reduced competition and fewer resources being devoted to improving existing products and creating new ones. It is also worth noting that MS and Apple—despite being competitors (at least in the consumer market)—have a long history of cooperation that goes way back to MS bailing out Apple in the late 90’s when Apple was on the brink of bankruptcy. During Job’s exile years when he was not running the company Apple was engaged in patent litigation with MS. In return for an infusion of cash and a promise from MS to continue developing Office for Mac (at least for a while) Jobs called off the law suits and signed a cross licensing agreement with MS that has been in effect ever since. Have you ever wondered why MS is one of the few tech companies that Apple has NOT sued over the years and vice versa? Now both of them are going after arch enemy Google and if the suit regarding ad sense is ultimately successful that could spell doom for the world’s biggest search and online advertising company.

  4. What I haven’t seen much news on is about the “Steve Jobs 949” patent being upheld. Now this is going to put everything in a tailspin for Android. We’re talking multitouch, gestures, pinch to zoom, and etc. And this won’t be FRAND’d either. I think Apple is getting all of its ducks in order before they unleash real hell unto Google and the like.