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New mobile patent wars are set to consume billions of dollars in legal costs and if successful, may hold back, or stop, Android’s development.

A consortium of Google rivals called Rockstar Bidco - Microsoft, Apple, RIM, Ericsson, and Sony - filed at least 15 lawsuits against Samsung, Huawei, HTC, LG, and other manufacturers that make Android smartphones. The suits say the companies infringe on a range of basic smartphone features, from email to location to hotspots. Seven companies plus Google are named in separate suits.

Patents are a means of protecting a company’s research and development investment by stopping unapproved copying. Some patents are necessary and some are just nuisance factor. How can patent authorities allow a company to patent a swipe gesture for example? See iTWire’s article on FRAND – common sense may soon prevail in the patent wars.

The patents were not the plaintiff’s inventions but part of a package of nearly 6000 patents acquired by the consortium at auction for US$4.5 billion in 2012 after Nortel’s 2009 bankruptcy. Analysts say in anticipation of this very outcome Google fiercely - but unsuccessfully - bid in a 12 round auction with Rockstar Bidco – for the patents. Patent trolls, err lawyers, certainly have been earning their keep.

Opinion

Reading the 44 page plaint against Samsung is both onerous yet interesting - these Nortel patents, all more than 10 years old, reflect the embryonic state of the mobile smart phone industry at that time. They include:

  • “Electronic Package Carrying an Electronic Component and Assembly of Mother Board and Electronic Package” [a.k.a. smartphone]
  • “Navigation Tool for Graphical User Interface” [what is that – a finger?]
  • “Internet Protocol Filter”
  • “Integrated Message Center”
  • “System and Method for Notifying a User of an Incoming Communication Event”
  • “Call Trace on a Packet Switched Network”

If Rockstar Bidco wins the result will be that the defendants may have to pay licensing fees, damages and court costs – again billions of dollars are at stake – and the result may be Android smartphones will (a) need to halt sales until the matter is ‘fixed’ and (b) and will invariably cost more.

Yet it is not all about money – because Rockstar Bidco bought the patent package in 2012. All it can hope to do is protect the patents going forward – there can be no real damages claim.

Google cannot countenance a defeat – after all Android is its baby-bot - this war is fundamentally about its survival.

It is also about Google’s survival. The separate Google suit contains reference to five patents, all of which cover the technology called the “Associative Search Engine,” which allows for the process of “matching search terms with relevant advertising and/or information based on those search terms and other user data.” Goggle’s right to use Android as its Trojan horse for its advertising, service, and big data – is under grave theat.

The US Court also needs to take a stand and determine if this is FRANDLY, vexatious or genuine.

Whatever happens iTWire will follow this with interest. My guess is that Rockstar Bidco’s consortium members are confident of a win – at least under US jurisdiction – and the fit will hit the shan …

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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