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Tablet Wars Head to Patent Court

When news broke late last week that {complink 3426|Microsoft Corp.} would seek a $15 license from {complink 4751|Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.} for every Google Android-based smartphone the handset maker produced, it seemed less like a smart business move and more like desperation.

But added to similar patent enforcement actions against Samsung from {complink 379|Apple Inc.} and {complink 4092|Oracle Corp.}, the action now looks like a clarifying of strategies to take on Google's move into mobile, by way of patent law. (See: Which Company Does Apple Fear the Most?)

Here's the basic scheme: Microsoft, Apple, and Oracle are all making similar claims that Samsung — and presumably other Android device makers watching — needs patented technology to make its Google phones work. Samsung is the likely target for this sort of action because its Galaxy phones and tablets look to be the key competition; estimates indicate it has shipped more than 3 million Galaxy line units since just April.

If patents do turn out to be Samsung's — and really Android's — Achilles heel, it would be a massive problem. Patent watcher Foss Patents has a copy of the complaint here. Apple's complaint is the second since March; Oracle's, perhaps the more damaging suit, argues that it's owed by Google and its handset partners for use of Java, which is an integral part of the Android system.

So the tablet wars, it now seems, are going to be fought in patent court. And in fact the first shot wasn't at Samsung. Back in 2009, Nokia filed a similar action against Apple, for use of various Nokia technologies across the Apple product line, including the iPhone. The patent experts writing at Foss, who must be enjoying the whole dustup (the company name stands for Free and Open Source Software; picture a graffiti artist tracking the case of a stolen painting), noticed back then that Nokia held five times as many patents as Apple did.

It's a useful question for today, too: Just how much of this technology does Microsoft (which once patented a radio-controlled talking bear) own, compared to what Samsung has? No one's yet got a sense of just how many patents the odd collection of anti-Google interests hold collectively, compared to what Google holds.

But one can easily imagine this going quickly to a negotiation, rather than to court. The $15 demanded by Microsoft doesn't sound like a firm figure; it sounds more like an opening offer, by a company pretty sure already that it has a pretty strong case against Samsung and Google.

If so, then the floodgates, presumably, open. In a world where OEMs are paying licensing fees to a number of the tech world's largest players, Android starts to look less attractive — particularly if Microsoft succeeds in winning anything close to that $15 payment. Add in similar demands to three or four others, and suddenly the hope of a $20 smartphone, the golden dream of the handset makers from last winter's Mobile World Congress, disappears into a lawyer's pocket.

That's a place from which most ideas, even good ones, don't typically manage to return. At least not anytime soon, and usually not intact.

16 comments on “Tablet Wars Head to Patent Court

  1. t.alex
    July 13, 2011

    I am curious what is it that Microsoft is asking for 15 dollar for every Android handset.

  2. Marc Herman
    July 13, 2011

    They are arguing that because the Samsung device uses technology Microsoft claims it holds patent over, Samsung owes Microsoft some of the earnings from sales of that device. They have decided $15 worth is fair. Samsung probably disagrees, and now a judge, or some parlaying lawyers, will decide.

  3. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 13, 2011

    I don't see why Samsung will not pay royalties to Microsoft if it really uses the claimed technology in its devices. There has been a precedent with Nokia and Apple patent dispute settlement and I think that Microsoft will likely be given part of what it is asking. 

  4. FLYINGSCOT
    July 13, 2011

    Patent litigation is simply part of any major manufacturer's way of doing business these days.  A huge stink is caused, counter suits are raised, negotiations begin, deals are struck (financial or not), business carries on.  Most of the time companies develop a large patent portfolio simply so they can assume a better bartering position in future.  At the end of the day the lawyers get rich and we all pay for it in a more expensive product..

  5. Ariella
    July 13, 2011

    Patent litigation is nothing new. Edison sued over patent violations mulitple times in his lifetime. But what is really surprising is that his estate sued for his patent violation as recently as 2010.

    According to Clarice E. Edison, the great, great, great grand daughter ofThomas Edison, the iPhone incorporates many of the inventor’s 1000+ patents developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    In particular, she said in a short press conference yesterday that electrical luminescent filament technology that back-lights the smartphone’s screen was lifted from the light bulb.

    Carbon mic

    The last living relative of the creative man also touched upon his carbon microphone, claiming that the iPhone’s mic used the earlier version as a prototype and works in a similar fashion to the Edison device .

       She also claims infringement on the patent of the phonograph and motion picture camera. When she was asked what prompted a suit at this point, she responsed: “Well, we noticed in the press that most consumer electronics companies, especially the smartphone manufacturers, are suing each other for similar reasons.”

    Article source  http://mobilebeyond.net/patent-infringement-lawsuit-by-thomas-edison-estate-hits-apple/

  6. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 13, 2011

    “At the end of the day the lawyers get rich and we all pay for it in a more expensive product..”

    Unfortunately consumers will pay the price in the end. But there are some cost increases that consumers will not tolerate especially in emerging markets where low-cost handset devices are preferred. 

  7. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 13, 2011

    Ariella,

    “There is nothing new under the sun”. I think that some patents shall be declared obsolete after a certain number of years. Seriously a 19th century patent should be considered public domain, don't you think?

  8. t.alex
    July 13, 2011

    If I am not wrong a patent will typically expire after 20 years.

  9. Ariella
    July 13, 2011

    From what I've seen about it, patents do expire. The number of years it is in force varies, but I've seen 17 and 20 years, nothing like the 100 years or so that would be needed to keep Edison's patents in effect unless they were renewed to keep them current. But I suppose a patent lawyer would know more about the subject.

  10. elctrnx_lyf
    July 13, 2011

    This fight will lead to the companies losing lot of money for the lawyers and increasing the prices. Also the management lose lot of time during the process which could have beeen better utilised to invent or design new, better and cheaper products. I think there should be a common place where the manufacturers can go and make sure that their product doesn't have any thing which uses patented technology.

  11. Anna Young
    July 13, 2011

    @Ariella, Fascinating. So, the descendant of Edison is suing now because all the smartphone and tablet PC vendors are suing each other. I thought I was the only one who had noticed this. What these companies couldn't achieve in the market place they want to get from the court. You can bet some other companies are examining their patent portfolios to see if they can allege something had been infringed.

  12. Adeniji Kayode
    July 13, 2011

    Ariella, The electronics industry moves too fast for anyone to wait for patents to expire. A five years old patent is probably not as important in the market anymore not to mention one that is 20 years old. The technoloby might still be relevant but the application may be quite different and any royalty payments won't be as much as for a much fresher patent. I may be wrong but this is not so much about patents as it is about companies' setting up roadblocks to slow down competitors.

  13. Adeniji Kayode
    July 13, 2011

    Ariella, The electronics industry moves too fast for anyone to wait for patents to expire. A five years old patent is probably not as important in the market anymore not to mention one that is 20 years old. The technoloby might still be relevant but the application may be quite different and any royalty payments won't be as much as for a much fresher patent. I may be wrong but this is not so much about patents as it is about companies' setting up roadblocks to slow down competitors.

  14. Ariella
    July 13, 2011

    That is likely the case for companies currently in competition with each other. But Edison's great-great-great granddaughter seems to think there is an opportunity to cash in here. I just wonder how the patents could possibly still be current.

  15. Daniel
    July 14, 2011

    Patenting provides or assures the minimum guarantee, against the key idea or technology. If anybody wants to make use of that technology, they have to pay either the licensing fee or royalty. At the same time, it’s a violation against ones right to create similar innovative ideas or technology. If such a debate happens, it’s very difficult to judge whose part is right. If I have idea and man power, I can create new technologies without conceiving third party ideas. I don’t know how it becomes the violation of similar technology patent.

  16. jbond
    July 14, 2011

    The ruling from the court or the settlement that emerges will be a big deal for many companies. When you have key players involved like; Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Oracle, and Google, serious money and market share is at stake. Every one of these companies has something to win and lose based on the outcome of this battle. This could also mean the end of cheap programs or electronics. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top.

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