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Apple vs. Nokia vs. Google vs. HTC 159

Posted by samzenpus
from the ballroom-blitz dept.
Lanxon writes "Wired has published a lengthy investigation into the litigation underway among some of the world's biggest cell phone manufacturers, and what it means for the industry of patent lawsuits and patent squatting. 'According to a 2009 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, from 1995 to 2008 non-practising entities [patent trolls] have been awarded damages that are, on average, more than double those for practising entities. Consider Research In Motion's 2006 payout of over $612 million to Virginia-based patent-holding company NTP, to avoid its BlackBerry network being shut down in the US. As part of the settlement, NTP granted RIM a licence to use its patented technology; it has subsequently filed lawsuits against AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon.'"
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Apple vs. Nokia vs. Google vs. HTC

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  • by kaptink (699820) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:03AM (#32191510) Homepage

    Patent trolling/squatting should be outlawed internationally.

  • by Interoperable (1651953) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:12AM (#32191600)

    It seems to me that a requirement for maintaining a valid patent should be that you must be producing something that uses it or actively developing something that uses it. It's a simple notion, in following with the principles of patents, that would neatly eliminate patent trolling and patenting just to block competitors. It would likely lighten the work load of the patent office as well, since broad patents for that purpose would be useless. I'm a strong supporter of patents and intellectual property but I think that there needs to be a clear path from initial innovation to a specific product or set of products in order for a patent to be considered enforceable.

  • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:20AM (#32191684) Homepage

    The Wired article on mobile patent lawsuits was, quite apparently, written just before the latest front was opened: HTC yesterday announced that it is now "suing" Apple.

    However, at a closer look it becomes clear [itwire.com] that HTC didn't file a lawsuit in the traditional meaning of the word, which would mean that they take Apple to a court of law. It is only a complaint with the US International Trade Commission. By contrast, Apple (in March) sued HTC in an actual court of law plus lodged a complaint with the International Trade Commission. Only lodging a complaint is rather weak. Fortune/CNN [cnn.com] lists the five patents in play and points out that it's only a complaint, not a suit filed with a court, and is not impressed.

    On my FOSS Patents blog [blogspot.com] I comment on developments concerning patents and Free and Open Source Software, and I see the squabble over video codecs as a closely related issue. In both cases, Apple is on the side of the large patent holders and Google favors "open" alternatives. Android is a Google-backed project, and as I explained in a three-part sequence of blog posts on video codecs [blogspot.com], Google so far backs Theora and it might now try to establish VP8, after open-sourcing it (which may happen very soon), as a codec standard. Apple, however, backs MPEG LA's H.264 (even though Apple is only a small contributor to the MPEG patent pool; for an example, Apple contributed only one patent out of 1,135 to the H.264 pool).

    There's nothing more unpleasant for a proprietary/closed-source vendor to deal with than free/open-source competition. Patents then come into play and can tilt the scales in favor of entrenched proprietary/closed-source players. Sometimes it's sufficient for the major patent holders just to ensure that the "free" alternative won't be completely free, neither completely free as in free beer nor as in free speech. The use of patents against vendors of Android-based phones mobile phone operating software will probably result in increased prices and possibly also in reduced functionality of Android-based phones. The use of patents against open-source video codecs, which Steve Jobs said would happen but without providing any specifics, would have a similar effect for Theora and, possibly, VP8.

  • Re:So... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:32AM (#32191770) Journal

    How long before "Non-Practicing Entity" goes from harmless-sounding euphemism to sinister dysphemism, the way terms like "Ethnic Cleansing" have?

    Dysphemism? I don't get it. When has "ethnic cleansing" been used to describe something that wasn't really killing/displacing people that don't align exactly with your ethnicity/religion/culture? That phrase became popular (at least for me) while I was in high school (Hutu & Tutsi conflict, Kosovo) and I haven't heard it used as a "sinister dysphemism" to describe something innocuous where serious stuff wasn't going down.

    Non-Practicing Entity already has a sinister sound to it in my mind. I would compare it more with things like "ponzi scheme" or "tax evasion." Things meant to game the system at other's expenses but can themselves be very hard to define precisely. And once you make them illegal, the people gaming the system just move their foot back so far that their toe is back on the line. For example, say you need to have one working prototype to hold a patent. Well, there's going to be tons of companies just throwing something together and calling it a prototype. Now you say it needs to be working ... so companies like Acacia Research and IP Ventures will stand up some prototype fabrication company that just specializes in that and NDAs. So you say they need a factory. Well, they'll buy abandoned warehouses in Montana and put the working prototypes in the warehouses. It just goes on and on until you realize that you're also hurting the small time inventors that can't afford the factories and then the system is broken a different way.

    I'd love to end patent trolling. I'd love to restrict non-practicing entities. The problem is that I can't really define either of them satisfactorily such that it's not broken another way. Can you?

  • by d3xt3r (527989) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:44AM (#32191898)

    It could be a lot worse for Nokia if Apple is able to prove that the licensing fees Nokia requested from Apple for essential GSM patents turns out to be unreasonable. Nokia does hold GSM patents, which as part of a standard are required to be licensed under "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" terms. If Apple can prove that Nokia requested unreasonable terms from Apple for the GSM patents, Nokia may be in trouble with the ETSI.

    If anything good comes out of this for future patent encumbered standards, it could be that the courts may be left to define what fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory actually means. As Engadget states in their coverage:

    In reality FRAND is nebulous and undefined, with almost no specific rules for determining what a "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" license actually is. source [engadget.com]

    It would be nice if these cases were looked at as clear reason why we really need patent reform, but I doubt that's going to happen any time soon.

  • by JiveDog (871841) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:45AM (#32191902) Homepage

    However, if Nokia wins, Apple has to reinvent mobile technology, then get all the networks to support their new implementation.

    Considering that Apple has done this once already, I'd place money on them to do it again if they have to...with that said, Apple isn't the type of company to roll over and let this kind of thing happen to them. Remember, they're the pitbull bred for the ultimate fight. They are Microsoft's original enemy and no other company has done battle or suffered as much as Apple has when it comes to patent/innovation fights.

    What everyone seems to forget is that Apple is in the spot they're in precisely for these reasons and they're determined never to let that happen again.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:54AM (#32191994)

    The lone inventor is not affected. If he's patented something that someone else is using, we have the following options:

    1) They stole it. To do this, the lone inventor will have had to have shown their patent to someone. Stealing it is not possible because the number of lone inventors prohibits

    2) They parallel invented it. In which case, either
    a) it's obvious and not patentable
    b) it's unfair of the lone inventor to lock someone out who also had the same idea

    3) The patent was granted and they copied what the patent said. Unlikely. How many places read all the patents to see what's out there? Nobody, that's who.

    The holes left for a lone inventor to be shafted unfairly after all those is pretty damn small. As it is, the chances of EVERYONE being shafted without trolling being banned is pretty damn high. Cost/benefit analysis: go with it.

    Add to that the lone inventor is already shafted by a bigger entity using their "defensive" patent pool against the lone inventor (without a large warchest, pool of patents, and salaried law department), even where the lone inventor is shafted, there are bigger places to un-shaft him.

  • by DMiax (915735) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:58AM (#32192036)

    Were I to decide, I would ask Apple why they did not complain about the licensing cost earlier, instead of waiting to be sued. The best they could hope is convincing me that there was some failed attempt to abuse monopoly from Nokia, but they would still be infringing.

    Obviously, I wish for a patent reform as much as you do, but I am pessimistic as well.

  • by E IS mC(Square) (721736) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:22AM (#32192256) Journal
    >> Considering that Apple has done this once already, I'd place money on them to do it again if they have to

    Wait, what? Apple has already reinvented mobile technology? I think you need to a bit easy on that apple kool-aid.
  • by Tim C (15259) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:25AM (#32192284)

    Maybe they believe that legal action should be a last resort, not a first?

  • by s.whiplash (1810776) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:27AM (#32192310)
    What are the features that Apple, or the other companies, say are being infringed?

    I have been using a Windows based smart phone for 7+ years and before that a Palm based smart phone for 4 years. There isn't anything new in the Apple phone that I haven't been doing for 6+ years, except for flinging your thumb to go to the next screen, but Palm was doing screen gestures 7 years ago. Plus other applications and systems have been doing similar things for a long time also.

    Apple, and to an extent other companies, are great at marketing, by telling you they have all of this new technology, but non of it is really new of that different then what has been available for years.
  • by intheshelter (906917) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:30AM (#32192340)
    Really? Do you really believe that they are holding back the dogs because they are trying to achieve sainthood? Come on. . ..
  • by Critical Facilities (850111) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:36AM (#32192436) Homepage

    However, if Nokia wins, Apple has to reinvent mobile technology

    Not really. Apple could just partner with Sprint or Virgin Mobile [about.com].

  • by hallucinogen (1263152) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:46AM (#32192556)
    If you spent over 40 billion EUR in R&D (like Nokia) I'm sure you'd sue as well if you thought that somebody was stealing your innovation (like Apple). Thankfully this isn't about "mind share" but actual merits. Nokia just might end up killing Apple's mobile ventures. As a Finn I'm totally rooting for Nokia because they make up a large chunk of our nation's GDP.
  • by Steve Max (1235710) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:52AM (#32192632) Journal

    That fact doesn't expropriate Nokia but at some point they could come under pressure that those are patents that should be made available on RAND (reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.

    That's the point: Nokia offered to license the patents under RAND terms to Apple (the same terms they offer other companies, including those that don't have so many GSM-related patents such as Samsung/LG/HTC), and Apple refused to pay. This is the reason Nokia sued: Apple wanted to use their patented technologies without licensing them.

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