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Smartphone patent fight: 'World War III'

Matt Hamblen | May 5, 2011
Smartphone-related patent infringement lawsuits Apple and Samsung recently filed against each other are but the latest in an escalating series of Android and open-source-related complaints filed by major corporations over the past 18 months.

Since early 2010, there have been so many smartphone- and wireless-related lawsuits filed around the globe that nobody seems to have an accurate count.

Florian Mueller, a self-described intellectual property "activist," runs the respected FOSS Patents blog, which recently listed a slew of Android-related device lawsuits in graphic form. The list begins with suits filed in 2010 and ends prior to the recent Apple and Samsung lawsuits. Including the Apple and Samsung filings, Mueller said there have been 41 active Android-related lawsuits since the start of last year.

Google, creator of the Android platform, is often named as a defendant in such lawsuits. Apple is a plaintiff in three cases, starting with its March 2010 suit against HTC, currently the biggest Android smartphone maker. Apple sued Motorola in October 2010.

Apple's approach thus far is to take on Android manufacturers rather than Google per se, since Google provides its open-source Android software basically for free while undoubtedly expecting to eventually reap tremendous revenue from advertising on Android phones, several patent attorneys noted. That Google advertising revenue stream isn't so far readily available to companies that would sue it, they noted.

The patent attorneys speculated that many more lawsuits could result from a raft of expected intellectual property disputes over wireless technologies such as LTE.

Mueller, who said he has no stake in any of the cases, expects "many more smartphone patent suits this year."

What is being disputed?

The recent Apple suit against Samsung characterizes the somewhat widespread nature of Apple's patent attacks and typifies many of the other cases filed by other parties. Apple's complaint includes 10 charges of patent infringement and two for alleged trademark violations against several Samsung smartphones and its Galaxy Tab tablet.

"Samsung has chosen to slavishly copy Apple's innovative technology, distinctive user interfaces, and elegant and distinctive product and packaging design, in violation of Apple's valuable intellectual property rights," Apple said in its April 15 complaint.

A week later, Samsung filed lawsuits in three countries, claiming that Apple infringed on Samsung smartphone patents. The company filed suit in a fourth country shortly thereafter

Most of the patent attorneys interviewed wouldn't speculate on the validity of the claims in the lawsuits, pointing to the precise nature of how patents are written and granted, and the need to avoid adding potential bias to any given case.

In one example of how wide-ranging the smartphone patent suits are, digital security tool-maker Gemalto sued Google, HTC, Motorola and Samsung last October for using its patented software in Android and other products. Gemalto's software was originally intended for designing Java-based programs that would run on full-size PCs.


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