Patent strife no barrier to smartphone innovations

Patent strife no barrier to smartphone innovations

Summary: HTC and Sony Mobile stress that ongoing patent lawsuits between phonemakers will not stifle their efforts to offer cutting-edge phone designs and features.


Patent disputes among smartphone manufacturers will not deter vendors Sony Mobile and HTC to introduce innovative smartphone designs and features in their latest and upcoming products for 2013. However, some of these innovations may not necessarily reflect what consumers are looking for in their mobile devices.


According to Jason Smith, director of marketing for Southeast Asia and Oceania at Sony Mobile Communications, the Japanese company is not perturbed by the slew of past and ongoing patent lawsuits between rival phonemakers such as Samsung and Apple. These will have not impact research and development efforts in offering new physical features and functionalities for its mobile devices, he said.

Smith added: "Sony is known for its innovations, heritage and designs. Sony Mobile, as part of the Sony family, has a strong track record of bringing outstanding designs to consumers. We don't think that our future designs will be affected by the Samsung-Apple copyright issue."

HTC shared similar sentiments. A company spokesperson told ZDNet Asia: "We don't comment on litigation cases, but we also don't let it distract us from our core mission of delivering innovative mobile experiences to people around the world."

Their comments come on the back of the longstanding legal tussles between current smartphone giants Samsung Electronics and Apple over certain smartphone design aspects and features. Last August, a U.S. court decided in favor of Apple in a copyright infringement case and said Samsung had to pay its rival over US$1 billion in damages. Apple has contested the decision, saying it deserves more compensation, while Samsung has been pursuing a retrial to reduce the damages to be paid.

Smartphones as TV accessories
In terms of innovations, Smith said Sony is focusing on its "One Sony" integration approach, in which Sony smartphones would include technologies from its TV, audio and digital imaging businesses. The One-Touch NFC (near-field communications) technology, for example, allows users to share content on their smartphones to other compatible mobile devices, TVs, laptops or tablets, the executive said.

Positioning mobile devices as TV companions is also on HTC's agenda. The company spokesperson said its HTC One, which is this year's flagship device, will come with Sense TV, which allows users to control their TVs, set-top boxes or home theater sound systems.

The executive added the Sense TV can allow up to 10 different settings for users to configure according to locations such as the living room or the bedroom. "You can view the schedule and set reminders for programs through Sense TV, as well as turn on or off your TV, set-up box and audio system with one tap," he said.

However, Singapore consumers ZDNet Asia spoke to seem to want more basic innovations for their handsets.

Sharon Chu, a retail salesperson who owns a Samsung Galaxy Nexus, said she would rather have a mobile phone with good battery life over other functionalities. "If you're running out of battery all the time, there's no use having many functions on the phone," she said.

Meanwhile, Debbie Yong added she wants a "very small phone" because she finds that large devices add weight and bulk to her handbag. Yong's wishlist runs counter to the direction many handset makers are heading, with the HTC One boasting a screen size of 4.7 inches and Sony's Xperia Z touting a 5-inch screen.

Topics: Patents, Legal, Smartphones

Liau Yun Qing

About Liau Yun Qing

The only journalist in the team without a Western name, Yun Qing hails from the mountainy Malaysian state, Sabah. She currently covers the hardware and networking beats, as well as everything else that falls into her lap, at ZDNet Asia. Her RSS feed includes tech news sites and most of the Cheezburger network. She is also a cheapskate masquerading as a group-buying addict.

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  • Author should update this statement

    "Last August, a U.S. court decided in favor of Apple in a copyright infringement case and said Samsung had to pay its rival over US$1 billion in damages. Apple has contested the decision, saying it deserves more compensation, while Samsung has been pursuing for a retrial."

    The damamges have been reduced GREATLY... down to $600M or so... forgot the exact number... it's still in appeals too, so could go down even more.
  • Liau Yun Qing's opinion on the effects of litigation on inovation.

    Did someone call Ms.Liau Yun Qing a cheapskate? They call me that to sometimes. That just gives her opinion more weight with me.
  • Patents do prevent innovation. They have to be reformed radically.

    When the patent system came about, it was to protect inventors from big business.
    The idea was that an inventor should have a way to cash in on his invention instead of having big business cash in on it because they could have a faster time to market.

    Since then, things have changed to do the exact opposite: Big business is hoarding patents on everything, and using them to prevent any newcomer with an idea that improves on something they're doing - no matter how trivial - from entering "their" market.

    Obviously those who participate in this system will point out that it doesn't pose a barrier to them (for every patent suit they lose, they win another -- just as long as it keeps anyone new out). They are telling lies to support this corruption.

    Patents need to be either abolished altogether, or fixed up in various ways:
    1. Make patent ownership possible only to an inventor (that has to be a natural person). That's who they were meant to protect, and that's who needs to be protected.
    2. Shorten patent lifetime radically (at least in the computer/smartphone world). In a world where a year is effectively a lifetime, a patent should expire after a year at most.
    3. Make it a punishable crime to even apply for a patent on a triviality. Applying for a patent on something already done by someone else, or on something that is so trivial that anyone thinking about the problem will come up with it in a few minutes, is essentially a form of fraud and should be treated as such.
    4. Patents need to become invalid automatically if the owner isn't putting out any product making use of the technology described after a year or so (or licensing the patent to someone else who does) - this is to prevent the situation where e.g. oil companies hold patents on solar powered cars to make sure they don't get built so their cashcow won't become obsolete.
    5. Non-profits and individuals who aren't in it for the money must be protected from being hit with patent lawsuits.
    • i agree with most of that

      ... particularly i disagree with this point:

      "Make it a punishable crime to ... Applying for a patent on something already done by someone else"

      It is nearly impossible to search every patent and determine that there is another similar patent covering what you are already trying to patent. It would not be fair to have tried (and failed) to look for prior art, then get punished because of it. a simple null-and-void on your current patent would suffice.