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Apple-backed Rockstar ends patent war on Android, deal suggests

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Apple has decided to end a bitter legal war against Google and Android phone makers, and to turn away from patent tactics that have cost the smartphone industry billions of dollars, according to reports and new court filings.

The news comes in part via a landmark court order in which a federal judge agrees to stay a series of lawsuits between Google and a patent consortium known as [company]Rockstar[/company], that is primarily owned by Apple.

A final settlement, slated for December 29, would come more than a year after [company]Google’s[/company] rivals used Rockstar to launch patent lawsuits against at least seven companies — including [company]HTC[/company], [company]Huawei[/company] and Samsung — that make Android-based devices.

The Rockstar lawsuits threatened to further inflame a global patent battle over smartphones, and led Google to file a lawsuit of its own last Christmas in an attempt to shield phone makers.

Court filings related to the proposed settlement do not disclose any dollar figures, and Apple or Google did not reply to a request for comment. But other reports suggest that Apple is not only concluding its patent battle with Google, but also shifting its policies on patent litigation in general.

According to IAM magazine, which covers intellectual property issues, Apple appears to be intent on winding down Rockstar altogether — a dramatic turnabout from 2011, when Apple banded together with four other firms (Microsoft, Blackberry, Ericsson and Sony) to pay $4.5 billion for old Nortel patents and to create Rockstar as a patent troll to attack Google.

While Rockstar is a creature of several owners, it is Apple that is basically running the show since it is the majority share owner (it put $2.6 billion into the bid).

As IAM explains, Apple and the other Rockstar owners have apparently decided to defang Rockstar once and for all, instead of selling it to people who would operate it as a patent troll (also known as an NPE):

Now, it seems possible that the resolution referred to could be either Rockstar’s disappearance or a cents on the dollar sale to a third party that will not seek to assert the portfolio – with some people mentioning RPX as a possible player in that scenario.

With a number of the consortium unsure of their continued involvement, the IAM blog also understands that Rockstar’s management has attempted a well-funded buyout. However, this was rejected by some of the shareholders who were keen not to be seen to be profiting from an NPE. [emphasis mine]

The IAM report also connects the Google settlement to a $188 million deal publicized earlier this week that will end patent litigation between Rockstar and Cisco. While that deal initially appeared to be a defeat for [company]Cisco[/company], it now appears that the payout was part of a larger strategic gambit that, in the word of the Cisco CEO, “is constructive for the whole industry.”

Indeed, other court filings show patent settlements with Time Warner Cable and other communications giants — which Rockstar had sued alongside Cisco over router and networking patents.

As for Apple’s shift in patent policy, it may stem from a host of factors, including the receding influence of late CEO Steve Jobs, who had touched off the initial patent assault on Android by vowing “thermonuclear war” against Google. Under CEO Tim Cook, Apple has become more pragmatic, signing a limited truce with Google this spring and also becoming more vocal about the problems of patent trolls in general.

Overall, this flurry of settlements is likely to prove good news not just for the companies but also for consumers who will no longer have to pick up the indirect costs of the patent lawsuits when they purchase devices.

More broadly, a broad-based patent peace between tech rivals (if this is indeed what this is) could also provide a boost for an expected patent reform bill in 2015.

The original headline on this story read “Apple ends patent war on Android, deal suggests.” It has been changed to reflect the fact that it is Rockstar, of which Apple is likely the majority owner, conducting the litigation.

13 Responses to “Apple-backed Rockstar ends patent war on Android, deal suggests”

  1. Steffen Jobbs

    It probably doesn’t matter to Apple anymore. Apple has completely de-fanged most of the Android hardware manufacturers of any mobile profits. They’re all going to be end up operating at a loss in time. Apple completely owns the high-end of the smartphone industry and Android devices have been left with the low-end crumbs divided among dozens of struggling companies. Apple got the last laugh. With a tiny bit of market share Apple has grabbed over 80% of the smartphone profits with just two models of iPhone 6. Samsung is about ready to give up because they’re not sure what to copy from Apple as it might backfire on them in the future as it has this year.

    Apple can barely keep up with demand for the iPhone 6 while Samsung’s Galaxy S5 gathers dust on shelves and their newer Galaxy Alpha models aren’t doing much better. Without heavyweight Samsung leading the high-end Android charge, Android is now basically the poor man’s choice of smartphone. Android will continue to grab most of the smartphone market share because of cheap $100 smartphones being sold to consumers who make about $3000 a year. Good luck with that type of market share. Apple probably said it doesn’t need no stinking Rockstar because Android is now just skin and bones with no muscle. Or maybe just a blind and toothless old tiger.

  2. What an idiotic, uninformed first few paragraphs in this article. There are several very big players in the Rockstar Consortium and they were actually more keen to go after Google. It’s so convenient of pundits and writers to accuse Apple of wasting time and money when they don’t understand the degree to which Google and Samsung ripped off Apple’s intellectual property and are now differentiating their products so it looks like Apple’s whining over nothing. Their whole success is based on theft of iPhone and iOS property. Rockstar is not controlled by Apple, in spite of the higher price it paid. This is different from Apple vs Samsung, etc.

      • Steffen Jobbs

        It started off as a complete ripoff of iOS thanks to Eric Schmidt’s thievery but now it’s just a fragmented mess of Android OS versions spread across years from Gingerbread which still has a pretty healthy chunk of Android market share. Soon Android One will be making up another version of $100 low-end crap-phones. Now Google has blessed Android users with Lollipop 5.0 for the all-day suckers of Android users. Lollipop is currently the Android tablet killer. Download at your own risk.

        • Sam Unwin

          You clearly have no f**king idea what you’re talking about. Yes Gingerbread does have a portion of the market, but that’s due to people in poorer countries not being able to afford new phones, and Google/the OEM cannot actually get updates to them, without making the devices slow (Apple does this too, devices become obsolete, get over it). As for Lollipop being the “tablet killer”. I seriously think you are delusional there. I flashed the Preview of Lollipop to my Nexus 7 (2012) and I’ve been having 20% more screen on time. It’s been much faster, and overall a better experience. Compare that to iOS where the adoption of iOS 8 has stagnated due to the users realising it’s a piece of s**t. Out of everyone I know, only one person has updated to iOS 8. But he also agrees features have been taken from Android.

    • RoyalGuestofGuests

      Apple did not ‘invent’ the iPhone, every piece of technology in it was ‘borrowed’ from other companies and other inventors. Even the design of the iPhone itself was borrowed from an earlier Sony design. They even ripped off elements of a Nokia phone when they developed the iPhone. Very little originality or actual innovation went into their first product, they just had good marketing and people like you took the bait.

      Additionally, Apple was a huge player in the Rockstar Consortium, the biggest player, and they very much used it as a patent troll organization. Either buying up patents on things they didn’t invent or using Rockstar to pool patents amongst members of the group, or buy up patents, just for the purpose of suing people for things they didn’t develop. Pretty sickening, actually.

      It is exactly the same type of disgusting behavior that Oracle engaged in when they bought up Sun just so they could use their IP (IP they didn’t develop) to sue Google for infringement.

      These companies didn’t rip off Apple, they copied form and function aspects, that were necessary for the technology to function properly. Apple did it first, they just followed suit.

      Something similar happened during the early era in automotive history, when companies tried to patent the transmission, the shape and function of the steering wheel, and other aspects of vehicles. Thankfully, the courts had the foresight to see the damage decisions like this could have and ruled that a company could patent their specific design, but they could patent form and function.

      Image if they had decided the other way, it could have potentially resulted in people putting patents on the shape of a cup, or the function of a book.

      Which is exactly what Apple was trying to do through theirs and Rockstars litigation attempts.

      Some very poor decisions were made in the courts early on this time but, thankfully, internationally it wasn’t working out well for them. They were loosing the battle, and starting to loose that battle here as well, because courts were understanding this aspect of it. Not to mention that many companies hammered out ridiculous but fruitful cross-patent deals that allow the industry operate as it should(although these deals just prove how broken the patent system is right now).

      • veggiedude

        Utter rubbish The iPhone revolutionized the entire mobile phone industry. Google engineers had a jaw dropping experience which is well documented and explains why they delayed Android fo up to 15 months for a complete UI and backend overhaul.

  3. One has to wonder if it’s linked with Qualcomm’s problems. If the Qualcomm investigations end as expected, Apple might be a lot more exposed. So they could be trying to stop this before they are a certain looser.