Smartphone Wars – The Patent Battle

Designbysoap blog - Smartphone Wars
With the release of the first iPhone back in 2007, the ‘smartphone’ was really born. It combined all the great elements of other phones at the time, and really started the trend. With the explosive growth of the mobile market and smartphones in the following years, companies have been ruthless in the development of new technologies. Unsurprisingly this has lead to numerous lawsuits being filed inwardly against each other, with a sprinkling of smaller outside technology companies claiming the big boys have infringed on various patents of theirs. So for your information, here’s a little guide to the minefield:

Who’s Suing Who? – A Smartphone Lawsuit Timeline

2006 NTP vs RIM (manufacturers of the Blackberry)
NTP, a company that only owns patents and doesn’t manufacture anything, sues RIM for infringement on wireless email patents they own. RIM had to pay NTP and Thomas Campana ‘the inventor of wireless email’ $612.5m to avoid having the Blackberry email service stopped and the phone taken off sale in the USA.
2006 – 2008 Qualcomm vs Nokia
In an epic two year court battle, Qualcomm alleged that Nokia had infringed on many patents they owned relating to mobile cellular voice and wireless data technologies such as GSM, EDGE, CDMA, WiMAX and LTE to name a few. Nokia eventually payed $2.5bn for a 15 year patent license.
2009 – Ongoing Nokia vs Apple
In a series of suit and counter-suit battles, Nokia accuses Apple of infringing on patents they own relating to GSM, UMTS and Wireless LAN (incidentally, some of these are technologies Nokia itself was sued for misuse of previously). Apple retort by saying ‘other companies must compete with us by inventing their own technologies, not just by stealing ours’, accuse Nokia of deceptive practices and seek a ban on Nokia products is the USA. The latest installment, in May of this year, saw Nokia file another suit against Apple over data transmission and ariel patents on the iPad. The battle continues…
Jan 2010 Kodak vs Apple/RIM
At the beginning of the year Kodak filed suits against Apple and RIM for patent infringement relating to digital imaging technology, specifically a way of previewing camera phone images. Kodak claim they were forced to file after talks with the manufacturers broke down.
March – Ongoing Apple vs HTC
Apple started proceedings against HTC, a Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer, in early March, alleging they had infringed on more than 20 patents relating to the interface, hardware and architecture of the iPhone. HTC responded with their own suit, claiming the reverse, that Apple had infringed on 5 of their patents. They seek to stop the iPhone, iPad and iPod being sold in the USA. The case is ongoing.
July 2010 NTP vs Apple, Google, HTC, LG, Microsoft, and Motorola
The same people who successfully sued RIM over wireless email patents have set their sights a bit higher, and are now suing almost all smartphone manufacturers under the same claim.
July 2010 Everyone who bought an iPhone 4 vs Apple
The problems with the new iPhone 4 have now been tested by many people now, and it does seem the phone loses signal when you, er, hold it tightly. Consequently Apple have received many complaints, ranging from stern letters to full blown law suits. Press release from Apple due 16/07/10 (tomorrow)

and a slightly weirder one…
Philip K Dick’s grand daughter vs Google

The family of the late Philip K Dick are attempting to sue Google over the use of the names ‘Nexus One’ and ‘Android’ for their smartphones. They allege this was lifted directly from ‘Do Android’s Dream Of Electric Sheep’, later made into ‘Blade Runner’. Isa Dick Hackett is quoted as saying “Google takes first and then deals with the fallout later”. Google, obviously, say otherwise.

Most of these will end with nothing more than a hefty out of court settlement and/or a license fee agreement, but the Apple vs HTC lawsuit could be quite serious.  If the case goes through, what kind of precedent will that set? Will Apple then go after other manufacturers until no-one is allowed to sell touch screens?
It’s a tough area, mainly the case because technology patents are notoriously vague and can be seen to cover a lot. For instance one of Apple’s complaints of infringement against Nokia is on ‘a graphic you slide to unlock the phone’, which could refer to almost any manufacturer, but with stakes such as ‘the banning of said product in the USA’, companies have to be very careful not to tread on each others toes.

Rob is our head of photography, specialising in architectural and music photography. He’s also a search engine optimisation engineer, often helps out with our digital marketing and loves graphic design.

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