The Mobile Patents War: Fall Update

Patents. They’ve dominated a lot of the tech scene in the past few months, especially in relation to Samsung and Apple and their attempts to get each other’s toys taken away from them. It’s a tangled web of legal battles that’s spawned everything on the intellectual spectrum from serious discussions about the validity of each one’s claims to parody accounts on Twitter.

Even in the ramp up to the holidays, it doesn’t seem to be stopping. Today we’re going to look at some of the most recent developments in this category, including Samsung’s attempt to get a phone that’s only the subject of rumour banned.

A Summer of Patent Madness

There’s been three major stories over the summer in regards to the patent conflict: Google’s loss of its Nortel bid, Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility and Samsung’s attempt to get Apple’s unannounced iPhone 5 banned in certain territories.

Of course, there’s a big background of events that led to these events, including Oracle’s infringement suit against the use of Java in Honeycomb, which has somehow always revolved around Google.

No Nortel for Google

Nortel, a company holding a massive patent portfolio, put their portfolio up for sale. To avoid going into depth about why the sale happened, let’s just leave it at that. The massive portfolio eventually went for a $4.5 billion price tag and, unfortunately for Google, involved everyone but Google. Microsoft, RIM, Apple, Sony and others shared the win, excluding Google from any sale.

This must have been devastating for news for Google, already involved with lawsuits on Android, and a major blow to the legal battles. Essentially, it wasn’t just a disappointment for Google, but for Android as a whole since its major competitors all got a nice slice of the patent pie.

Unsurprisingly, Google wasn’t happy, but only described the outcome as “disappointing”.

This outcome is disappointing for anyone who believes that open innovation benefits users and promotes creativity and competition. We will keep working to reduce the current flood of patent litigation that hurts both innovators and consumers
–Kent Walker, Google’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel

Samsung Galaxy Europa against the HTC Wildfire S

Most Android makers, including HTC and Samsung, are involved in some sort of legal battle.

Google Buys Motorola Mobility

In mid-August, Google announced it was acquiring Motorola Mobility, the phone manufacturing division of Motorola. Google said this was “to supercharge the Android ecosystem and will enhance competition in mobile computing“, which indeed it will – but a side motive could have well been to create a patent powerhouse.

In acquiring Motorola Mobility, Google gained an arsenal of 17,000 patents with about another 7,500 pending. Google only owns 1,000 patents itself, so this is a massive upgrade to their weaponry in their legal battles. While the handset side of Motorola is a nice purchase, it’s more of a side effect for the main acquisition: the patents.

(Editor’s Note: Fellow Android.AppStorm writer, Joe Casabona, disagrees!)

Interestingly, Google only needed 18 of those 17,000 patents to protect Android.

Samsung and Apple and the Unannounced iPhone 5

Another very interesting development is Samsung’s attempt to get the unannounced, unreleased, potentially (however improbable) non-existent iPhone 5 banned in Korea, according to The Korea Times. Of course, this follows a long battle between the two companies (who actually rely on each other for trade) which has seen massive bans on the Galaxy Tab in multiple territories, and even banishment of the right for Samsung to display certain products at trade shows.

Whatever it looks like, if you live in Korea, you might not end up seeing it.

Is It Ever Going to End?

That’s certainly the question on a lot of people’s minds right now. The war between platforms has not only moved to mobile, but also started involving the courts to help one win. No longer does consumer opinion get a say in what products succeed, because they probably don’t have a chance if they infringe on the smallest of patents.

In the end, it’s unfortunately the consumer that will get hurt here because they’ll be limited in choice between handsets. Quoting the portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, “a guy who builds a nice chair doesn’t owe money to everyone who has ever built a chair”. My advice would be to stop fighting each other and try to innovate, allowing the consumer to choose which products succeed. It’s not at all helping your reputation if the fact you can’t garner sales is your motive for trying to stop the products that are.