Patents & Pitfalls of Tech Savvy Giants

by IP Blawg on May 22, 2012

Charles is a solicitor and works with clients on cases pertaining to industrial disease compensation. In his spare time he enjoys writing about patent disputes and infringement claims.

As of October 2011, Samsung and Apple had nine patent disputes underway in courts all over the world. Among the claims by Apple is one that Samsung infringed on Apple’s intellectual property rights by copying the iPhone’s look and feel. Similarly, Samsung has claimed that the iPhone infringed on their telecom patent. Samsung has attempted to have the Apple’s tablets banned from being imported in China just as Apple tried to have the Galaxy S banned in Australia. Lawsuits are often quickly followed by counter-suits and appeals, resulting in a seemingly endless process.

The Role of Patents in Technology

Patents were first instituted to help inventors profit from their work and thus to provide an incentive for more inventions. The result, however, has been that tech giants, like Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, Motorola and the like have bought up patents in an attempt to stymie their competition and protect themselves from potential future suits. Samsung is particularly well-armed in this area as they have the second-largest number of patents in America after the computing giant, IBM.

The lawsuits between these tech giants only show a part of the picture; there were 84 patent infringement lawsuits filed in American courts alone in 2010 just in the mobile phone industry, up from 24 the year before. This increase is due to the fact that these devices are becoming more complex, implementing different designs and technologies to enable them to be used as cameras, media players, e-readers and an assortment of other devices. The more technology they implement, the more likely it is that someone, somewhere, can claim that their intellectual property is being infringed. There could be well over 200,000 patents used in the development of a single smartphone.

The Speed of Technology

The pace of technological development is accelerating rapidly; the result is that consumers are more demanding and companies are fighting fiercely in an intensely competitive marketplace to outdo each other. The more features they add, the more potentially patented technology they use. The result is heated legal battles such as those raging between Apple and Samsung.

Google’s Android platform is free to manufacturers, meaning it costs them nothing to install the operating system on their mobile phones. Microsoft’s operating system, however, is not. The cost of developing their OS is factored into what they charge manufacturers for the rights to install it. This has led to an inequality that Microsoft appears to have fixed by requiring mobile phone manufacturers (like Samsung) to pay them for installing Android instead of Windows 7. The terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, but the speculation is that the mobile manufacturers must now pay Microsoft somewhere between one and five dollars for each Android device they sell. Apple has not pursued the same course and is more focused on keeping their operating system proprietary. These blurred lines, however, can lead to even more potential technology patent suits.

The worldwide popularity of smartphones and related mobile devices is a trend that is expected to continue increasing for the foreseeable future. Consumers expect to be “wowed” by each new crop of phones. The result is that the patent wars among smartphone manufacturers and related tech giants are not expected to go away any time soon.

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