Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

Summary: Patent litigation in the mobile space is out of control. It has become a game with too many playing cards for anyone to win.

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TOPICS: Legal
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When hardly a day goes by without a story that a new lawsuit has been filed claiming mobile patent infringement, you know the system is seriously broken. At the core of the problem is the simple fact that too many patents have been granted over the years, making it impossible for patent holders to defend innovation.

Patent cases are now filed willy-nilly, and often with no intention of protecting innovation. They are being used as playing cards in a high-stakes game where one company hopes to create a stalemate with another. You drop your suit because of these patents I hold, and I'll drop mine in deference to your patents.

Google is front and center in the patent game with suits popping up all over. Its situation with Oracle looks worse every day, and its Android partners are entering the courts at an alarming rate. Android is claimed to infringe on patents held by several companies, and Google is running out of playing cards to stay in the game. The Motorola Mobility acquisition will get Google lots of new playing cards, but those cards didn't keep Motorola from getting sued by Apple so they might not keep Google out of court.

Microsoft has taken the approach of licensing its IP (patents) to Android partners, but as HTC has discovered that is not enough to avoid trouble. Apple and HTC are in patent litigation even though the latter pays Microsoft royalties on every Android product it produces. The license deal simply means Microsoft won't sue HTC, but it has no bearing on other companies (like Apple). HTC has licensed Microsoft's patent cards, but they are obviously not the right cards.

HTC recognized that the Microsoft IP wasn't going to help in the patent game with Apple, and recently got a few patents assigned to it by Google. With these new patents HTC immediately went on the offensive and filed suit against Apple on the basis of these patents. HTC obviously hopes it has enough cards in play to force Apple to agree to a stalemate, with both companies agreeing to leave each other in peace. The problem with the system currently is even if that happens, both companies are still free to go after other targets. The game will go on.

There are simply too many patents in the mobile space for any company to be protected from all others, so suits will continue to be thrown around. The suits are used as a tool to force companies to trade patent playing cards in the game. If a company successfully defends a patent or two in court against one foe, odds are new claims will be made that other patents are being infringed upon. With hundreds of thousands of patents in play, this game can be played forever. The winner will be who can afford to keep playing, not who is right. Make no mistake, this isn't about justice it's about outlasting the other players.

Image credit: Flickr User fdecomite

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24 comments
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  • Cement the Status Quo

    And isn't that very possibly the goal? Make the barriers of entry too high for any new competitors so the big guys can duke it out amongst themselves? Unless Oracle, Apple, and Microsoft can succeed to sue Android out of the market.
    WebSiteManager
  • Apple

    Apple will win, they have the most money and very loyal users who will continue buying their products... in 2007 Steve Jobs said it when he presented the iPhone "we patented it" and surely now they are protecting their IP.
    Hasam1991
    • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

      @Hasam1991
      Agreed.

      Anything Google touches turns to sh&t.
      audidiablo
      • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

        @audidiablo

        *yawns*
        DonRupertBitByte
    • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

      @Hasam1991 That would be great, Apple as the only smartphone supplier. I can hardly wait to pay $2000 for an iPhone6
      anothercanuck
    • Saying it doesn't mean squat

      @Hasam1991
      especially since smartphones where out long before the iPhone.

      Steve can say it 'till he's blue in the face, doesn't mean a thing.
      William Farrell
    • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

      @Hasam1991

      Actually, Microsoft has the largest patent Portfolio by far in terms of value (not number).

      A company could own 100,000 patents, but they might relate to worthless stuff. A site did research on patents, and MS wins outright with a patent worth of almost the same as every other tech giant combined.
      daniejam10
      • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

        @daniejam10
        They ought to. They spend as much on R&D as every other tech giant combined.

        Lot of good it's done them.
        x I'm tc
  • Your lawsuit against the Selectric typewriter is ready

    There's a certain practical constraint on how much of this can go on. There are only so many courtrooms and judges in the patent litigation system, and there is no way they can keep up with the rate at which new litigation is being filed.

    It won't be long before new filers are given court dates ten years out, at which point the suit itself becomes a waste of time.

    This is probably not the right way to throttle the lawsuit-mania, but it's the method in place and it will work.
    Robert Hahn
    • That just means...

      @Robert Hahn
      ...the litigants with the best lawyers have one more card to play. And isn't 100% market share what competition is all about?
      John L. Ries
  • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

    Nobody has sued MS for infringing the mobile patents because they have either developed it inhouse or already licenced it from other players.

    Greedy companies like google and apple have not licenced enough patents. And is waiting for the courts to force them to do so. Remember Nokia won the case against apple few months ago.

    Google is the worst offender, and its likely that most of the Android OEMs will eventually ditch google or make licencing arrangement with MS or other companies.

    Its obvious from the Mobile patent litigation that who is following the rules and who is stealing.

    If Oracle refuse to licence Java, then Google as we know it is dead. A 10 billion settlement is not too much to ask
    owlnet
    • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

      @owlnet
      And when Oracle looses all its patents (since something like 40% of the claims have been dropped by the patent office) what is Oracle going to sue over? Copyright? of 10 lines from here and there over how to call a standard subroutine?

      Not going to happen. You can't copyright an API.
      jessepollard
    • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

      @owlnet

      It is currently unproven Google 'stole' anything from Oracle. That's just a wish you have.
      DonRupertBitByte
      • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

        @DonRupertBitByte
        And it will never be "proven" because Google who, right or wrong, are obviously on the wrong side of the judge (and that's all that really matters) will take the hint and settle somehow.
        x I'm tc
      • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

        @jdakula

        Factually not true at the moment. It's all speculation. Oracle has pissed off the judge too.
        DonRupertBitByte
    • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

      @owlnet

      Nokia didn't win anything, the companies reached agreement in their negotiations and the suits forming part of those negotiations were dropped.
      bannedagain
    • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

      @owlnet Nobody is suing Microsoft because few people are using Windows mobile. There's little money to be made at this point. If they ever gain any significant market share, then look out. In other tech areas, MS has had to pay out enormous sums of money after losing patent suits.

      Companies can do tons of due diligence comparing existing patents to their IP and still find that they can get sued for some obscure part of a seemingly unrelated patent. The due diligence costs a fortune and so does getting sued. It's a broken system.
      K B
  • lawyers have created their own goldmine

    and lawyers will make everything they can to make everything worse because they make money out of troubles... software patent is their goldmine.
    consumers lose out... makes me feel very grumpy.
    Drakkhen
  • RE: Mobile patent litigation: A game with too many playing cards

    Mobile patent litigation didn't have anything to do with HP's webOS-based TouchPad and smartphones failing in the marketplace. Nor has it adversely impacted RIM's PlayBook attempt to gain traction. Although, to be sure, HP's and RIM's patent portfolios are likely sufficient to protect them from the likes of Apple and Microsoft.<br><br>This is mostly about Google, Google's Linux distros (Android and Chrome OS) and Google's OEMs. Google is a relative newcomer in mobile devices compared to Apple, Microsoft, HP-Palm and RIM. Google's OEMs, not so much. But they have so far made good surrogates for Google.<br><br>Oracle's interests are to monetize Java through licensing as well as prevent/contain Java fragmentation and are very specific to Google's Android (i.e., Dalvik).<br><br>From the article:<br>"too many patents have been granted over the years,<br><br>Too many patents or too many patents that should never have been issued by the USPTO? At least one cause of poor quality patents is Congress raiding the USPTO cookie jar:<br><br><a href="http://www.sfexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/2011/06/congress-can-t-keep-its-hands-out-patent-office-cookie-jar" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.sfexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/2011/06/congress-can-t-keep-its-hands-out-patent-office-cookie-jar</a><br><br>This limits the number of patent examiners that the USPTO can hire as well as their ability to hold onto experienced patent examiners. Apparently, stopping Congress from continuing with this practice requires new legislation to be passed. A conflict of interest, perhaps? Or just an example of "help me, I'm spending and I can't stop".
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Oracle are the biggest fools

    They acquire Sun to get Java (mostly) and now they attack the platform that is doing the most to promote Java as a language for development (even though your not suppose to say that Android uses Java because Java is a Trade Mark). Android is not fragmenting the language because it is Java with different libraries not a new flavor of Java. There always were different libraries.
    It shows Oracle is much more about money than about promoting Java as a platform.
    jslarochelle