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Smartphone patent wars exposed as completely futile

Published Dec 12th, 2013 12:50PM EST
Smartphone Patent Wars

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It happened again — a handset sales injunction resulting from a patent infringement ruling has been overturned. This time the drama played out in the UK, where Nokia’s attack on HTC led to the sales injunction of the HTC One mini handset. And like clockwork, the sales ban was stayed by the Court of Appeals, allowing HTC to continue One mini sales. Such as they are. We have seen the same minuet danced across various continents, perhaps most visibly in the U.S. market, where Samsung and Apple are locked in an eternal and pointless battle. Samsung is trying to get ITC to slap sales injunctions on various iPhone models and Apple is doing the same to Samsung’s Galaxy range.

It is gradually becoming obvious that no courts in any country have a desire to interfere with sales of major smartphone ranges. No matter what patent infringements may have taken place, judges simply cannot stomach issuing rulings that might actually have a material impact on major phone vendors. As a result, sales injunctions are typically limited to minor models (like HTC One mini) and then even those are stayed by appellate courts.

And once various appeals have been heard and processed, the models in question are 18 months or older — effectively at the end of their product runs.

The end result is that the patent system is effectively becoming welfare for people who have double degrees in engineering and law. IP lawyers can charge upwards of $1,000 dollars per hour, but the work they do will never have any substantial impact on the competitive landscape in the phone industry.

The modern Sisyphos rolls the same stone up the hill, day in, day out, dressed in a bespoke suit from Saville Row. How long handset vendors are willing to pour hundreds of millions into supporting this endeavor is anyone’s guess.

After launching mobile game company SpringToys tragically early in 2000, Tero Kuittinen spent eight years doing equity research at firms including Alliance Capital and Opstock. He is currently an analyst and VP of North American sales at mobile diagnostics and expense management Alekstra, and has contributed to, Forbes and Business 2.0 Magazine in addition to BGR.