Despite publicly belittling software patents and lobbying for patent reform that would make it difficult for companies to use such patents in patent-based lawsuits, Google is building an impressive arsenal of patents of its own at a much faster rate than in previous years. While the move may be perceived as an attempt to defend its Android mobile operating system that’s under attack from rivals including Apple and Microsoft – as well as to attack them back – it would appear that Google is protecting all of its interests, across a variety of markets that it’s currently a player in. MIT’s Technology Review reports that this year alone, Google is on track to be awarded about 1,800 patents, putting Google on the top 10 patent recipients list, ahead of companies like GE and Intel. Google is now No. 3 or No. 4 on that list behind the likes of IBM and Microsoft. To help illustrate what a dramatic change this is from the old Google, in 2007 when the iPhone was first introduced, Google was awarded only 38 patents. More →
When the history of the patent wars is written, the auction of Nortel’s mobile patents may be seen as the equivalent of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination which sparked World War I. Reuters reports that Rockstar — an industry consortium that includes Microsoft, Apple, BlackBerry, Sony and Ericsson — has sued Google, Samsung, HTC and Huawei for allegedly infringing the Nortel patents the consortium bought back in 2011 for $4.5 billion. According to Reuters, the Nortel patents being used in the suit “cover technology that helps match Internet search terms with relevant advertising… which is the core of Google’s search business.” In retrospect, Google probably wishes that it had outbid the consortium for the Nortel patents instead of subsequently spending $12.5 billion to buy up Motorola and its hugely overvalued patent portfolio.
HTC is working with Qualcomm to alter a chip design that has been judged to infringe on Nokia’s radio patents, The Wall Street Journal reports. The original ITC ruling on the matter involved only older handsets, but the dispute could engulf the new HTC One flagship model by January. Nokia has a wide and deep portfolio of patents spanning several key areas, including antenna design, power consumption reduction techniques, email transmission, messaging functionality and menu systems. The company has widely been regarded as not pursuing its patent cases against Asian vendors aggressively, while it has focused on it skirmishes with Apple. More →
This is a bit of bad news HTC could certainly have lived without. As troubles continue to mount for the struggling Taiwan-based smartphone vendor, it was dealt another blow on Monday afternoon when the U.S. International Trade Commission found that several HTC smartphones infringe two Nokia-owned patents. The ITC found HTC innocent of infringing a third patent. An injunction preventing HTC from importing several smartphone models could be issued as a result, though it wouldn’t impact the vendors latest smartphones. According to Reuters, the HTC Amaze 4G, Inspire 4G, Flyer, Jetstream, Radar 4G, Rezound and Sensation 4G are the only devices covered in the case. As HTC weighs its options, Nokia was quick to issue a statement. “Nokia is pleased that the initial determination of the ITC confirmed that HTC has infringed two of our patents,” was all the soon-to-be-former Finnish smartphone maker had to say.
Bill Gates may no longer be running Microsoft but that doesn’t mean he can’t help his company out in his spare time. Ars Technica reports that the Microsoft cofounder is helping Intellectual Ventures, a patent-holding firm that has in the past sued the Google-owned Motorola, acquire more patents and is listed as a co-inventor on 93 patent applications filed by the firm since 2008. Intellectual Ventures, which was cofounded by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, has around 70,000 patents in its portfolio even though it doesn’t make any products of its own. Indeed, the firm itself told Ars that its mission was not to make products but to “invest in ideas themselves and make them available to other companies” for a licensing fee.
After Apple narrowly escaped a sales ban on its iPhone 4 and iPad 2 late last week, it looks like Samsung might not be so lucky. Apple on Friday won its case against Samsung, which was found by the U.S. International Trade Commission to infringe on the famous “Steve Jobs patent” as well as an additional hardware patent. As a result, the ITC has issued an import ban on the offending Samsung devices, though an earlier report suggested that the older products covered in the case currently make up less than 1% of Samsung’s sales. President Obama has 60 days to overturn the ban before it goes into effect. Florian Mueller at FOSS Patents has the full story. More →
Dislike of software patents is no longer confined to wild-eyed Redditors and Mark Cuban. The Washington Post points us to two Nobel Prize-winning economists who have recently come out against the very idea of software patents and have said that their existence is actually inhibiting innovation more than helping. Economist Gary Becker, for one, acknowledges that some software developers will lose their incentive to create software if they aren’t guaranteed intellectual property protections. However, he thinks this is an acceptable price to pay if it means freeing other software developers from the burden of high legal expenses. More →
According to Fortune’s Apple 2.0 blog, The Wall Street Journal’s recent report suggesting that the smartphone patent wars have been a big bust for all involved misses the point. Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt writes that while much of the Journal’s argument makes sense, the paper fails to differentiate between standards-essential patents (SEPs) and non-essential patents, and therefore fails to distinguish between claims made by Apple from claims made by the likes of Samsung. More →
While just about everyone is sick and tired of the constant barrage of patent lawsuits among smartphone vendors, it seems that tech companies themselves keep plugging precious resources into suing one another despite having fairly little to show for it. Analysis by The Wall Street Journal has found that “courts have proven as likely to deliver plaintiffs a rebuke as a win, and the slow grinding of the justice system has sapped the impact of the occasional big victories” in patent lawsuits. More →
Apple (AAPL) has struck a new deal to license patents from Access, according to a document published on the patent holding firm’s website. The IP covered in the small deal includes patents originally filed by Palm, Bell Communications Research and Geoworks. As 9to5Mac points out, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs once told then-Palm CEO Ed Colligan that the company’s patents were “not that great,” and that Apple had passed on an earlier opportunity to acquire them to protect the iPhone because they were basically worthless. To be fair though, the Apple-Access licensing deal is valued at 1 billion yen, or about $10 million USD, which is indeed practically nothing to a company with more than $140 billion in cash on hand.
While more patent suits may be the last thing the mobile industry needs, it seems that’s what it’s going to get no matter what. AllThingsD points us to a new study from analyst Chetan Sharma projecting that one-fourth of all patents issued in the United States this year will be mobile-related, up from just 5% in 2001. Sharma also finds that Samsung (005930) was the leader in mobile patents granted last year, which makes sense because the company has been working to boost its mobile patent portfolio to ward off more potential lawsuits from Apple (AAPL) such as the high-stakes patent suit that the company lost last summer. Sharma says that the surge in mobile patents is unsurprising since smartphones and tablets have quickly become “the growth engine of the knowledge economy,” which gives companies a lot more incentive to patent everything they can to both maximize their returns on R&D and to prevent potential suits from patent trolls.
You wouldn’t like Mark Cuban when he’s angry, patent trolls. In an interview with TechCrunch this week, the famed businessman and investor issued a sweeping broadside against the United States patent system by claiming that “dumbass patents are crushing small businesses.” Cuban has recently teamed up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation digital rights group to start a campaign to “eliminate stupid patents” that he says is trying to “get the message to politicians that patent trolls are costing taxpayers… and small businesses money that could otherwise be used for innovation and creating jobs.” Cuban says that he’d like to either end software patents or give them a much shorter shelf life, to end design patents all together, and to “require that all patents be used in a business within five years or otherwise become public domain.” It’s tough to say whether any of Cuban’s recommendations will ever see the light of day, but it is nice to see yet another high-profile voice calling for reform of American intellectual property laws.
The United States Department of Justice is wondering what part of “standard essential patents” tech companies don’t understand. Per Reuters, the DOJ and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week put out a joint policy statement saying that companies should only be entitled to modest monetary compensation if others use their standard essential patents, and that they shouldn’t use those patents to seek outright sales bans of rivals’ products. The agencies’ reassertion of this principle is notable because Google (GOOG) last week agreed to stop using the standard essential patents acquired from Motorola in offensive patent lawsuits against competitors. Standard essential patents, for those who don’t know, cover key technologies that entire industries need to use in order to operate. Typically owners of these patents must agree to license them in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory fashion.