HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

Summary: When Google closes the Motorola Mobility deal it will get 17,000 patents. That arsenal is likely to be enough for Google to open a patent candy store. It will be handing out patents like Gummy Bears.

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TOPICS: Google, Apple, HTC, Legal
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The wireless industry patent wars are entering a strange new phase where intellectual property is being handed around like ammunition and the holding period really doesn't matter. It's all about launching the patent grenades.

In this new phase, Google is happy to be a patent arms dealer to its allies, who are all being sued by Apple.

The big patent flap of the day---actually there are more like three including HTC vs. Apple, Oracle vs. Google and Apple vs. Samsung---revolves around HTC suing Apple with nine patents obtained by Google, according to Bloomberg. HTC told AllThingsD it paid Google for the patents, but the sum isn't disclosed. HTC could have paid a dollar or a few million. My bet is on the former.

You see where this is going. When Google closes the Motorola Mobility deal it will get 17,000 patents. That arsenal is likely to be enough for Google to open a patent candy store. It will be handing out patents like Gummy Bears.

It's pretty easy to see Google's patent store sales pitch. It would go something like this:

Apple got you down? Apple trying to sue your face off? Don't worry says Google. For a small fee---just to keep it on the up and up---we'll rent you a patent to countersue. Here's your magic patent.

What's odd about this is that the companies building their patent stockpiles are all acquiring them through some other company. These patents often cross through many hands. The innovation argument is a bit questionable. Should there be a holding period before you can sue someone over a patent? Can you really have a patent for a few hours and start lobbing lawsuits?

Like all things patent, this rent-a-patent strategy is a bit strange, but not totally unexpected. The good news is that all these patent lawsuits and counterstrikes may just equate to a detente at some point. The Google axis and Apple will each have enough patents to assure mutual destruction. Nilay Patel raises the largest question in the patent wars: Why doesn't Google sue Apple? We may get an answer to that question once the Motorola Mobility deal closes.

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Topics: Google, Apple, HTC, Legal

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64 comments
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  • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

    Where is Zdnet's daily quote/link for <a href="http://madhatter.ca/2011/01/26/the-provenance-of-florian-muller/" target="_blank">FM</a>?<br><br>PS. Your Google article is not credible with out.
    Return_of_the_jedi
    • LOL

      @Return_of_the_jedi
      and yet that dude shilling for the axis of evil software had his piece on this topic before zdnet.
      The Linux Geek
      • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

        @The Linux Geek Boy you guys just love Florian. Ed had a link to him last night I believe. Guess that makes it credible. ;)
        Larry Dignan
  • So be it

    The patent system is a huge corrupt joke. <br><br>If this is what Google must do to play this sad game then so be it. More power to 'em.<br><br>Unfortunately large companies seem to believe that they are entitled to retain their positions regardless of free market forces such as real innovation and competition. They take full advantage of a system which has been corrupted largely by them to artificially maintain their dominant positions. They have stifled the truly innovative by erecting massive barriers to entry. They have manipulated governments and legislation in order to have the 'tools' to destroy small innovators who are perceived threats.<br><br>We've all heard the stories of innovative folks who had ingenious ideas who started in a garage and became huge successes. Companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, are doing their best (or worst) to make sure that this never happens again.
    Tim Patterson
    • What's with the entitlement attitude?

      @Tim Patterson

      Nobody likes to see lawsuits. They are disruptive. However, I don't get the attitude that companies don't have a right to protect their intellectual property that took years of research and lot's of money to develop. You claim that companies that protect their IP are stifling innovation. How, by not simply allowing others to freely copy their hard work? What incentive do companies have to spend money on R&D if it's not protected? If it's easily copied by a competitor that happens to have a better handle on supply chain, you're screwed. Companies, big or small are not entitled to steal from others. If Apple is stealing, they should pay. If HTC is stealing, they should pay... same for Google, etc.

      The issue here is that HTC has no real patents as they've done no real innovation. They are simply buying patents on the cheap from Google in order to try to fend off Apple's legal attacks. My guess is that it won't be enough as Apple's arsenal of IP significantly outweighs HTCs or Google's.

      Small startups that do want to innovate, simply have to license patents like everyone else. As for HTC, why are they okay with giving Microsoft a ransome for their IP, but not Apple? Google is giving away their IP encumbered product for free. Apple, Microsoft and others are simply making the point that they're no such thing as a "free" lunch. You're going to pay one way or the other, like it or not. Even Google is paying big time... How long will it take for Google to recoup the $12.5 billion wasted on Motorola? A very long time...
      techconc
      • Actually there is a big difference

        @techconc
        " As for HTC, why are they okay with giving Microsoft a ransome for their IP, but not Apple?"

        MS's offer to HTC:
        "You can keep using our IP, you just have to pay us."

        Apple's offer to HTC:
        "Stop selling your products to consumers. We will not accept any payment."

        Apple does not (as a rule) license their IP. MS does.
        toddybottom
      • *Their*?

        "I don't get the attitude that companies don't have a right to protect their intellectual property that took years of research and lot's of money to develop"<br><br>The problem being the word 'their'.<br><br>The whole system of patents for inventions breaks down when you issue patents to people who AREN'T the inventor, WEREN'T the first to invent, or HAVEN'T even specified their invention in any clarity that it could ever be a definition, let alone a manufactured thing.<br><br>Apple didn't invent simple harmonic motion in Gui's, yet they have a patent on it, HTC invented nothing yet here they are countersuing.<br><br>Why is 'America Invents act' trying to legalize patent trolling? They're about to change it to 'first to patent' WITHOUT also adding 'must not already be disclosed', so literally I can see something, write it down, patent it, and say 'I invented it separately' and they want to make that legal????<br><br>The whole patent system has been a joke for a decade now, and so many lawyers are making money off it that nobody wants to really fix it.<br><br>Meanwhile US makes nothing, even Apple is hiring it's designers abroad now. Instead of Google and Apple fighting it out in the market and killing the competitors in the process, Google and Apple are fighting it out in the COURTS and blocking each other to the gain of others.
        guihombre
      • Your entire argument may be based on a fallacy

        @techconc <br><br>You say:<br>" I don't get the attitude that companies don't have a right to protect their intellectual property that took years of research and lot's of money to develop"<br><br>What you just said there, in many cases isn't exactly so. Sure it can take a long time and lots of work to develop a product. But its not unusual for one singular product to encompass numerous patents. Patents are supposed to exist due to someone developing a particular invention of a sort that took true creativity that wouldn't be replicated by just about anyone else educated in the field of work who might try and resolve the same problem. A patent is not supposed to be that you simply come up with the most obvious solution, even if it took a lot of work to get there. Patent ownership is not supposed to hogtie an entire industry from using the most obvious and convenient solutions to technical problems. Patents are not supposed to be given out for no other reason then you got to the patent office with an idea first, the idea is supposed to reflect a unique level of creativity that wouldn't simply be replicated by anyone working on the same problem.<br><br>The problem is that for many years now in the high tech industry in particular, it appears that truckloads of patents have been given out that may have taken some hard wok to produce the specific "invention" but its roughly the same solution most people would have come up with if they were working on it. The problem arises of course when company number two tries to come out with a competing product and lo and behold many of their solutions to various issues are pretty much the same as the company who made it to the patent office first. Its typically not involving any kind of direct stealing of someones ideas, its simply that when the easiest solutions work best its commonplace for different people who are educated in a particular field to come up with similar ideas. Think about that. <br><br>In some industries, certain professionals are actually supposed to come up with the same solutions as others in their field. But it appears that when something is a "patentable" kind of idea, the people at the patent office apparently have no clue that similarly educated people will typically come up with similar ideas when the idea is the simplest solution and it works well. And because nobody at the patent office seems to have a clue what is a truly inventive and unique solution to issues in the high tech industry, the patent office's solution appears to be to simply give a patent out for any idea they have never seen before without any clue that if it were the world of food by analogy for example, they would be giving out a patent for a frankfurter on a stick. Or maybe a squeezable ketchup bottle. Maybe a salt shaker with larger holes in the lid for people who like using extra salt. Sure the first time someone came up with those ideas, they were new, but not particularly inventive really.<br><br>A common problem is that in IT and high tech generally, you have had many forward looking individuals over the years who looked a little far too forward and cobbled up various ideas and bits of software to accomplish particular things that at the time didn't really need doing, or that nobody was interested in at the time, and they patented those ideas. Years later the due to other new inventions coming along the need for the older invention finally comes to fruition. But of course now there are many competitors and all their big brains come up with the same software/hardware solutions and again, lo and behold Buddy who made it to the patent office years ago, when the idea was a white elephant that had no real application at the time, well Buddy is now rich because he sat down and "thought up" this simple and obvious solution back when nobody needed it. Now everyone needs it and its the obvious solution but its been patented. Ludicrous.<br><br>How does all this stifle innovation? Well, more often then not, its not these crap box patents that bring a whole lot of genius to a product because quite frankly anyone working in the area could have thought them up. The true innovation is how these patented ideas are combined into a slick user friendly product at a reasonable price.<br><br>If you prevent companies from using simple effective ideas in their products, you are essentially FORCING them to do one of three things;<br><br>1. Try to reinvent the wheel to be different then a wheel but do the same thing as a wheel just as well or better then a wheel.<br><br>2. License the patent for the wheel off of the company who made it to the patent office first with the wheel invention.<br><br>3. Don't make anything that will need a wheel or anything close enough to a wheel that will get you sued for using wheels.<br><br>All the above three stifles innovation. Its not a hard question.
        Cayble
      • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

        @toddybottom:
        Good points... I was actually thinking that when I wrote my post. Still, everything is negotiable. Apple doesn't care about protecting many of the specific patents that they have provide their competitors aren't quite so blatant with what they are copying. That is, if they stuck to slider or qwerty style phones and didn't use multi-touch so heavily, I seriously doubt Apple would care about the other items. The fact that HTCs and the Samsungs of the world so blatantly copy Apple's general designs and directions forces Apple to use go after them in a big way. Honestly, I don't blame them either.

        @guihombre:
        I'm not defending the patent process as it exists today. Yes, agreed, clearly, it's broken. I do however, defend the right to defend one's IP in principle. I think far to many items are deemed patentable. That however is an entirely separate problem and the answer to that problem isn't simply to eliminate patents altogether. Yes, patent reform is needed, but until that happens all companies are playing by the same rules.

        @Cayble:
        Yes, agreed... as mentioned, patent reform is needed. There should be laws to prevent patent trolls, truly trivial items shouldn't be patentable, etc.

        On the other hand, complex problems can often have simple solutions. These simple solutions often do look simple in hindsight, but are not necessarily obvious prior to the invention / patent application. How does one distinguish that from something that just is truly obvious? I don't know, but I do believe there is a difference and they need to be treated differently.

        All the same, none of this contradicts the validity of protecting what is truly intellectual property. Further, in the long run, I also believe that no protection of IP leads to nothing but open source. Open source is great for many things, but there is much more innovation when there are financial incentives involved. Also, think about it, why would a company spend a billion dollars on R&D for a product just to have another company quickly copy their designs? First mover advantage typically isn't worth it. So, lets not pretend IP protection isn't necessary just because their are flaws with the current implementation of that protection.
        techconc
      • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

        @techconc Problems with your arguments:
        When a company buys patents, how much did R&D cost?
        When multiple patents from different companies patent the same thing, how is innovation promoted?
        Small startups don't have $millions/$billions to defend their ideas, so how are startups to grow?
        With the patent office handing out patents like a zealot hands out pamphlets on a street corner, how is IP or innovation protected?
        anothercanuck
      • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

        @techconc "
        Unfortunately large companies seem to believe that they are entitled to retain their positions regardless of free market forces such as real innovation and competition. "

        There is not a damn thing innovative about what Google did. They ripped off another company's code, and passed it off as their own by dumping it on the market. So spare. Google is a vile company that deserves whatever happens. They are 10 times worse than Microsoft ever was.
        jhammackHTH
      • @toddybottom: Apple frequently licenses their patents.

        @techconc

        They are not obligated, however, to license all of their patents.
        Bruizer
      • @cayble: You fundamentally do not understand IP.

        <i>"The problem is that for many years now in the high tech industry in particular, it appears that truckloads of patents have been given out that may have taken some hard wok to produce the specific "invention" but its roughly the same solution most people would have come up with if they were working on it."</i>

        The thing is, someone was the first to put the 10's of millions into coming up with that specific solution. So you think sponges (like Google) can simply wait and then copy it under the guise of "well... We would have done the same thing anyway"?
        Bruizer
      • @anothercanuk: So you think there will be no more startups ever?

        <i>"Small startups don't have $millions/$billions to defend their ideas, so how are startups to grow?"</i>

        Or do you think Google is a "startup"? What about the very young Facebook? LinkedIn?
        Bruizer
      • Entitlement? Can you read?

        @techconc

        First of all let's dispense with the industry invented term "intellectual property". There is no such thing. There is copyright and there are patents. Artificial monopolies should only be granted for truly groundbreaking innovations. Whether it cost some large inefficient company $20 billion to develop or cost a couple of ingenious people working in their garage their time.

        Apple has a patent on a 'rectangular device with rounded corners'? Really? this is the corruption you support?

        Your reply indicates that you are clueless as to the original intent of patents in this nation.

        No one creates in a vacuum. Every "innovation" is simply building on what came before. We shouldn't be giving artificial exclusivity to what are really incremental improvements or even large improvements that others would come up with independently.

        If you knew a little more history you would know that our current corrupt systems for patent and copyright are now almost the opposite of what the founders intended.
        Tim Patterson
      • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

        @anothercanuck <br>"When a company buys patents, how much did R&D cost?"<br><br>So, what do you recommend, patents shouldn't be transferrable? If you develop something or legitimately pay someone else for their development effort, what's the difference? Companies contract other companies for development all the time. What's not fair is paying a very nominal fee for patents that are worth much more. This is what most suspect happened with HTC / Google, but in all fairness, we don't know for sure.<br><br>"When multiple patents from different companies patent the same thing, how is innovation promoted?"<br><br>That question doesn't even make sense. Prior art would be noted and the latter patents would be invalidated.<br><br>"Small startups don't have $millions/$billions to defend their ideas, so how are startups to grow?"<br><br>Then they shouldn't steal. They need to either develop in areas that are not heavily patented or license existing patents like everyone else. The startups that are both successful and useful are those that break new ground and do something different. How many more Android based smartphone companies do we really need?<br><br>"With the patent office handing out patents like a zealot hands out pamphlets on a street corner, how is IP or innovation protected?"<br><br>Again, your question doesn't make sense. Not granting patents would be not protecting innovation. Granting patents does protect those who have innovated.<br><br>@jhammackHTH:<br>I agree with your post... I believe your argument was directed to Tim Patterson.
        techconc
      • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

        @Tim Patterson:<br><br>Tim, it's unfortunate that you're not able to discuss this issue without a heavy dose of insults. That's generally a sign of a losing argument.<br><br>Honestly, I'm not sure what your issue is with the term "Intellectual Property". You do at least agree that patents and copyrights should exist in some form and by definition, these are intellectual property. Likewise, the point you're trying to make is not effective.<br><br>You then try to make a case by picking on a seemingly weak patent from Apple involving rounded corners. Are you aware of the nature of design patents which covers ornamental design? Why must others copy this design? It's not necessary to build a similar product? Other products before Apple didn't incorporate this design, etc. The "obvious" method is to not round the corners, right?<br><br>"No one creates in a vacuum. Every "innovation" is simply building on what came before. "<br><br>I agree with this statement. The problem is, you take this basic truth to the point of making an illogical conclusion. By your "logic", since everything is built off of previous work, nothing is truly innovative in and of itself. You're wrong. Plain and simple.<br><br>Let's take the iPad for example. The broad concept of the tablet has existed before. As others note, this comes from science fiction. Apple had a concept in the 80's known as the Knowledge Navigator. They followed up with the Newton. Microsoft tried the tablet PC for 10 years, etc. Nothing was successful before the iPad. Did Apple invent the screen? No. Did Apple invent touch capacitance? No. etc, etc. Yet, lets wind the clock back a few years. Was the iPad obvious? If so, why did nobody else build it before Apple? I'm sorry, but there was a lot of innovation in coming up with the right form factor and overall user interface / user experience regardless of the fact that it was built on previous innovations. If Apple stepped on the patents of others along the way, they are not exempt from dealing with those issues just because they added new innovation.<br><br>Finally, as I've mentioned countless times in this thread, I fully agree that the patent system in it's current form is broken. I agree that far to many things are deemed patentable. That said, I do firmly believe that patents should exist to protect those who invested in innovation. If you have an issue with that position, then I invite you to make your case using logic rather than insults.
        techconc
      • Not exactly

        @techconc

        I had my archos tablet before the first iPad hit store shelves. It's not so much that the iPad was a huge innovation. It became popular because of Apple's effective marketing and the fact that they have their own cult following who race to the store to be the first to buy the latest iToy.

        Apple didn't have the first tablet nor the best in my opinion. Their success in the market has come largely due to marketing and creating the ridiculous perception that owning iCrap makes one "cool".
        Tim Patterson
      • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

        @Tim Patterson:

        Ahh yes, the old "Apple is only successful because of their marketing... blah, blah, selling to cult following, etc. " argument. Yup, that must be it. That's the only explanation which allows us to cling to irrational positions.

        Honestly, if you truly believe the only difference between an Archos tablet and an iPad is marketing, then there is nothing further for us to discuss. You clearly have a very strong anti-Apple bias which prevents you from acknowledging that they just might have a better product not to mention the fact that several hundred million users sort of goes beyond what would be considered a cult, etc. *sigh*....
        techconc
      • RE: HTC sues Apple via Google: Here come rent-a-patent lawsuits

        @Tim Patterson

        [b]I had my archos tablet before the first iPad hit store shelves. It's not so much that the iPad was a huge innovation. It became popular because of Apple's effective marketing and the fact that they have their own cult following who race to the store to be the first to buy the latest iToy.[/b]

        This whole "cult" mentality crap may have been true at one time but it's proven time and time again that Apple products do indeed live up to their hype. Great marketing is only good for a "first sale" but for a product to continuously sell version after version - especially with each version outselling the last like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad lines have done - a company HAS TO consistently produce a great product. In this case your whole "cult marketing" argument is pure steaming bullsh1t... and I say that not only as an iOS proponent but as someone who has seen Apple sell MILLIONS of these devices. Millions which would not have sold if they were crap. [b]

        Apple didn't have the first tablet nor the best in my opinion. Their success in the market has come largely due to marketing and creating the ridiculous perception that owning iCrap makes one "cool".[/b]

        Repeating your point with different words does not make it any more true... just because YOU hate Apple and iProducts does not make them crap. Just as the perception that it is "cool" does not make a product crap.
        athynz