The word on the street is that Apple could file for a temporary restraining order against the Samsung Galaxy S III on Friday. Naturally, Samsung probably wouldn’t be too happy with that, which has led FOSS Patents’ Florian Mueller to speculate that Samsung will try to enact revenge by filing similar complaints against Apple whenever it comes out with its newest iPhone. But if Samsung is really hell-bent on going after Apple, why is it waiting around for the iPhone 5 to come out? One answer may lie in the strength of Samsung’s patent portfolio.
If, as is expected, the next iPhone has LTE connectivity then it could play directly into Samsung’s hands. iRunway, a research firm that specializes in analyzing companies’ tech patent portfolios, released a study earlier this year showing that Samsung and Qualcomm were far and away the dominant players in the LTE patent space.
How dominant? Consider that Samsung holds nearly 10% of all LTE-related patents and just over 12% of what iRunway dubs “seminal patents” — that is, patents that are most likely to be used in suit. iRunway used a wide variety of metrics to determine what constitutes a seminal patent, including a patent’s age, its infringement detectability, and the number of instances that the patented technology is used by other firms. Any way you cut it, though, Samsung holds the most cards in the realm of LTE intellectual property.
“All of the companies making handsets will want to stay away from Samsung,” iRunway chief solutioning officer Animesh Kumar told me earlier this year. “Samsung can get aggressive and start hitting all these guys.”
iRunway also said that Apple has “minimal patents in the LTE domain,” which means Apple could be particularly vulnerable to patent suits if Samsung decides to break out the big guns. At any rate, it’s very likely that the smartphone patent wars will continue for a very long time to come despite recent half-hearted efforts to lay issues to rest.