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Mobile patent punch-up survival guide

Posted: 17 Nov 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:mobile patent? patent infringement? embedded platform?

Apple Inc. threw the first punch when it sued HTC Corp. on March 2, 2010. Apple claimed that the Taiwan-based company's Android smartphone infringed iPhone patents. Since then, hundreds of lawsuits and countersuits have been filed involving top Android partners. The lawsuits cite hundreds, if not thousands, of patents and the punches are not about to stop any time soon.

Apple, Microsoft Corp., Oracle Corp. and a handful of smaller companies have traded legal volleys with the likes of Google Inc., HTC, Motorola Mobility and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. Neither Apple nor Microsoft has gone directly after Googleyetthough Oracle and Google are headed to court next year.

Amazon's Android-based Kindle Fire may get dragged into the fray; so might other big Android players, including Acer Inc., Asustek Computer Inc., Dell Inc. and LG Electronics. Nokia Corp., for its part, holds more patent cards that it may yet play.

Side battles have sprung up between China's telecom OEM duo in Shenzhen, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd and ZTE Corp., which are often fierce competitors, as well as between ZTE and Ericsson. Even companies as seemingly far afield as Kodak, Philips and Technicolor have gotten a piece of the patent action.

The future of Android, now the largest-selling smartphone and fastest-rising embedded platform, is at the center of the fighting. But the mobile patent war is broader even than Android.

"This is about disruption in the mobile market and a lack of patent equilibrium between the players," said Mike McLean, vice president of professional services at UBM TechInsights.

"The Apples and Googles, with relatively young patent portfolios, have disrupted the businesses of the Nokias, Ericssons and others, and in that scenario we will see much more in patent assertion and litigation," McLean said. "It's what happened in electronics in DRAMs and elsewhere before, but the dollars involved here are huge."

It's an epic battle that could take a year or two to play out. But strategic skirmishes are coming up as early as December that could see some HTC handsets banned in the U.S. and bring court decisions in key disputes involving Microsoft, Apple and Motorola.

"So much litigation from so many parties with so many different strategic interests will have some business impact," according to Florian Mueller, who launched a mobile patent blog just as the fighting started. In the end, Mueller said, "this will be about more than legal fees. Something will change in the market."

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