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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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  • The Americas first telegram, transmitted via a repeater: "What hath God wrought" sent by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1844.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      The Americas first telegram, transmitted via a repeater: "What hath God wrought" sent by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1844.

      And the first reply was:
      I'm sorry, God is not available at the moment. To leave a message for God please transmit your message after the beep. When you are finished transmit '1' for more options.

      • by tyrione (134248)

        The Americas first telegram, transmitted via a repeater: "What hath God wrought" sent by Samuel F.B. Morse in 1844.

        And the first reply was: I'm sorry, God is not available at the moment. To leave a message for God please transmit your message after the beep. When you are finished transmit '1' for more options.

        Or transmit '2' for Toys and Santa Claus will receive your request soon.

  • Patent trolling/squatting should be outlawed internationally.

    • by HEbGb (6544)

      Agreed. They are nothing but parasites on productive companies.

      • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @09:29AM (#32192338) Homepage

        I don't mean to downplay the problem that patent trolls / non-producing entites represent, but they're a feature not a bug of the patent system, as Carlo Piana, a European lawyer specialized on Free and Open Source Software matters, recently said on Twitter. The proponents of this kind of patent system simply want trolls to exist, even though they will from time to time have problems with them themselves.

        But a troll just wants to make the money. It's a hold-up situation if you face a troll, but if you cough up the money, he'll leave you alone and focus on the next victim. Even though $600 million is a huge amount, RIM (the BlackBerry maker) not only survived but actually generated huge levels of profits ever since.

        By contrast, if Apple decides that no one else should use certain multitouch and other functionality, then only those with a really massive patent arsenal ("mutually assured destruction"), which is what Nokia may indeed have, will be able to solve the problem through cross-licensing. But it's economically practically impossible to solve the problem by offering Apple a check because the strategic value of maintaining a certain competitive advantage is so valuable to the market leader that smaller players can't solve the problem by paying. So if Apple insists on its rights, it can tell vendors such as HTC to stop providing certain functionality, period. Unconditionally. No negotiation. Cease and desist. The only chance then may be that if you can prove a dominant position, antitrust law could be used to achieve compulsory licensing. [blogspot.com] In Apple's case, that would be very difficult to say the least...

        Again, I don't mean to downplay the problem with patent trolls, but in order to ensure that incremental innovation can take place for the benefit of consumers, it's key to watch what the large patent holders are doing, starting with the biggest patent bully on the block, IBM [blogspot.com], but also looking at everything else that's going on.

        • by DJRumpy (1345787)

          Rather than allow blackmail situations, why not simply put a time limit on the length of time that they can file lawsuits for patent violations in the past? If they fail to exercise that right within a reasonable amount of time, then they loose the right to sue for damages for past infringement? Is that too simple a solution?

          It would stop these submarine issues from popping up years after products have been out and used in the market.

          • Backroyalties (license fees for past infringement) -- or the equivalent in case of a lawsuit, damages for past infringement -- certainly add to the problem, but the biggest leverage a patent troll can have is the ability to force an "infringer" to discontinue shipping a key product (or several key products at the same time). That's when a company's ability to stay in business becomes seriously endangered and that's the perfect basis for a hold-up.

            • by DJRumpy (1345787)

              So perhaps a stipulation that they cannot force a business to interrupt operations based on a patent that has passed it's 'grace period' for claims?

              • So perhaps a stipulation that they cannot force a business to interrupt operations based on a patent that has passed it's 'grace period' for claims?

                Sorry but it's not clear to me what you propose. In particular, what do you mean by "a patent that has passed"? Software patents can be vaild for up to 20 years (if periodic renewal fees are paid). For most software patents that's longer than the commercially relevant period anyway, and during those 20 years the patent holder (provided that renewal fees are always paid) can always use them to disrupt a business. There can be some exceptions where a patent holder may lose the entitlement to assert a patent b

                • by DJRumpy (1345787)

                  I wondering why they don't put a limit on the amount of time that a patent holder can sue another for infringement. Continue to allow the 20 (+) years to hold and own the patent, and collect royalties, but limit the amount of time (create a window of time) that a patent holder can sue an individual or company that is infringing. If that time passes, they would lose the option to sue for lost damages, but the infringing company woud have to purchase the rights going forward.

                  That would prevent situations like

                  • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                    Now I understand what you mean in general but I still can't see how one could make this work. There can be great ideas from a perspective of what would be fair and desirable but transforming them into a workable rule that works under the law is not always possible.

                    Assuming a patent relates to something that's new (which is the way it should be but patent offices often fail to find prior art), then it's logically inevitable that at the beginning (after the grant of the patent) there won't be anyone from whom

          • Rather than allow blackmail situations, why not simply put a time limit on the length of time that they can file lawsuits for patent violations in the past? If they fail to exercise that right within a reasonable amount of time, then they loose the right to sue for damages for past infringement? Is that too simple a solution?

            How does that address the issue with Apple or Nokia? They both asserted their rights in a timely fashion, when someone violated the patent. Rather the problem as I see it is that Nokia had patents on technologies, and the whole industry was built up upon those patents, including infrastructure vital to our national security and basic utilities (face it cell phone service is a basic utility now necessary for doing business and individual safety). If Nokia refuses to license their patents to some companies or

            • by DJRumpy (1345787)

              I was responding to the parents topic of Patent Trolls. As to your question, IF apple decided to withhold it's touch patents is purely hypothetical. I would imagine such cases would be invested as anti-competitive as they would be using unfair market advantage.

              I don't think any of the companies involved have refused outright to license their technologies, but I believe the suite from Apple claims that Nokia was demanding more money from Apple than from other vendors, which is the basis of the lawsuit.

              If tha

              • As to your question, IF apple decided to withhold it's touch patents is purely hypothetical. I would imagine such cases would be invested as anti-competitive as they would be using unfair market advantage.

                That's the whole point of patents. You invest in inventing something and in return a patent grants you an exclusive monopoly to that technology for a limited time. The idea is to motivate investment in innovation. Apple withholding multitouch is the patent system working as intended. Apple licensing it inequitably to others would be a problem if they were to go that route.

                I don't think any of the companies involved have refused outright to license their technologies, but I believe the suite from Apple claims that Nokia was demanding more money from Apple than from other vendors, which is the basis of the lawsuit.

                Actually, Apple refused to license their patent as part of the payment instead of all of it. Nokia refused to license their patent for th

        • by fermion (181285)
          IBM has never been able to stop anyone from innovating based on patents. In fact, I believe that since IBM has so many patents, they are free to innovate without the threat of being sued for patent infringement. In your example, the lack of patents allowed a parasite to sue RIM. This does not often happen to IBM.

          IBM has innovated to remain a relevant company. Unlike most companies, they do not focus on a product, say typewriters, and then cry to government for support when typewriters are no longer ne

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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

      • by lorenlal (164133) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:30AM (#32191752)

        I'm 100% with you. Of course, I'm wondering what the standard for demonstrating active development would be? Also, who would be checking to see that they're actually doing something with it?

        Clearly, we couldn't take the company's word for it. If they did decide to waste money by pretending to do development, it would at least introduce some risk to the trolling company in terms of cost. Also, faking records would be quite interesting to the SEC.

        If we can answer these questions, we could finally stop bitching about patent trolls and try to do something about it... Like getting in the ear of our lawmakers, and trying to get them to realize how bad this is for the economy. The finishing move would be: Bad economy -> The more likely you'll not see the other side of the next election.

        • Of course, I'm wondering what the standard for demonstrating active development would be?

          That was my first thought. I'm wondering....constantly checking all patents would be impossible. Instead they (whoever they may be) only need to check if someone else wants to use the patent. Maybe charge a small fee for this.

        • What shouldn't happen is penalties for non-compliance. The most the courts should do is force the company to pay reasonable royalties consistent with the industry to the damaged party. Anything after that is simply abuse of the patent system. Making no benefit being a patent troll or developing company. One really obvious question, especially with software patents, that needs to be ask is how valid is the patent if multiple independent sources seem to develop it? Is it really that innovative?
        • I'm 100% with you. Of course, I'm wondering what the standard for demonstrating active development would be? Also, who would be checking to see that they're actually doing something with it?

          If they want to sue a company for using their patent then they'll have to show that they were actively selling or developing a product that included and properly utilized the patent at the time the accused infringer started their supposed violation of said patent.

          A company that is using someone's unused patent needs to strike a licensing agreement with the patent owner or stop using the patent within a fixed period of time (6 - 12 months?) once they become aware of the existing patent. No "settlements" fo

          • Right. It would only come up if a patent troll decided to litigate, in which case the validity of the patent would be assessed.

      • by rpresser (610529) <rpresser@@@gmail...com> on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:33AM (#32191782) Homepage

        That's insane. That would remove all protection from the traditional lone inventor who comes up with something useful and wants to sell it to the big companies. In effect you'd be saying that you can't invent anything unless you plan to sell it yourself.

        • That's insane. That would remove all protection from the traditional lone inventor who comes up with something useful and wants to sell it to the big companies. In effect you'd be saying that you can't invent anything unless you plan to sell it yourself.

          What if you're only allowed to not produce something for ONE patent. Protects the lone inventor, while still hurting patent trolls.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          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

          • by rpresser (610529)

            b) it's unfair of the lone inventor to lock someone out who also had the same idea

            Hello?? That's the whole fucking point of patents, to get an exclusive right for using an invention, even if someone else has the same idea!!!

        • As elewton hinted, the designation "troll" or "nonpracticing entity" wouldn't apply to a fabless company [wikipedia.org] like ARM, which sells a patent license and a know-how license as a set. Nor would it apply to MPEG-LA, many of whose members sell their own codec implementations.
        • In that case, he'd patent it, then sell the patent. They want the situation to be the guy turning up, maybe even a year after the patent is granted and say "Hey, that's actually my thing that you're doing. How about sending me some money?" Hell, it could even end up as being "Hey, I've already done that. Employ me and I'll make it super-wicked for you, for less than you'll spend on your R&D guys hacking it together as they've been doing so far."

          What they want to do is stop patents being sat on for year
        • Obviously licensing use of the patent would be considered using it. Patent sales would be fine, the purchaser of the patent would simply have to produce something with it or license it to a third party. As I said, there would have to be clear path from the patent to a product that employs it but the path doesn't have to be a single link.

        • > That would remove all protection from the traditional lone inventor who
          > comes up with something useful and wants to sell it to the big companies

          Hmm, I assume you've never actually tried to sell a patent to the"big companies" as a lone inventor.

          They usually say, en bloc, "that's clever but we have no immediate market opportunity for that".

          Then they carefully design non-infringing products that perform a similar function.

          Yes, I am bitter.

        • by DarthVain (724186)

          Ya in defense of the Trolls, it is likely hard to tell one activity from another.

          I remember the story of the guy who invented "intermittent wipers". He showed the idea to Ford (I think) in an attempt to sell them the idea, and they just stole it and used it. I am pretty sure the guy was successful (eventually) in suing Ford.

          But there is an example of a legitimate use of a patent.

          I think the fault lies with the Patent Office. In many cases the Patents in question are so vague and open than they could apply t

      • by chrb (1083577) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:52AM (#32191954)

        must be producing something that uses it or actively developing something that uses it

        Two problems:

        • Does the item that uses the patent have to actually do anything? I can take a patent, and then implement some product that I have absolutely no intention of ever selling or releasing to the public. And if I did sell it, would there be a minimum sales threshold for the patent to be valid? If I make a single item, put it on ebay, does that then make the patent valid?
        • What about companies that produce intellectual property, such as patents, and then license those patents to third parties? The patents involved in this model are now no longer valid, because the inventor does not directly produce items for sale?

        The patent system relies on the ability to discriminate between entities with valid patents, and entities without valid patents. This is the fundamental issue - whether this is even possible. Even assuming that it is possible, there are still problems.

        • Who decides whether or not a patent is valid. How is a jury qualified to decide on patent validity? Should there be some alternative? What?
        • The cost. Will the state continue to finance the patent system, through patent offices, examiners, courts? Fixing the patent system will require a greater investment than is currently being made by any nation - who is going to pay for this? The inventor? That would favour rich over the poor. Should it continue to be paid for through taxation? That will require increasing taxes.
        • The current system favours large corporations that can afford to keep patent lawyers on the payroll. Small inventors can not afford court cases that run for years.
        • Geographical scope of patents in a globalised economy. What if a company in China violates your U.S/E.U. patents, running software on servers that are accessible globally? This kind of scenario requires a global patent framework, with some kind of oversight body (WIPO? United Nations?). Do you really want that? If you say that corporations in other countries can willfully violate patents, then corporations will favour locating subsidiaries in countries that have no patent enforcement. We are already seeing this - hardware companies moving to China, which has one of the lowest rates of patent enforcement in the world, and biotech companies opening R&D subsidiaries in India.
        • Where is the evidence that the patent system actually does what it is supposed to - that is, enable real inventors to fairly profit from their inventions, whilst maintaining the right of others to compete fairly by manufacturing their own inventions. When was the last time you heard a positive patent story? Ever?
        • by rpresser (610529)

          The patent system relies on the ability to discriminate between entities with valid patents, and entities without valid patents. This is the fundamental issue - whether this is even possible.

          If I come up with a solution, can I patent it?

          It's probably an NP-complete problem anyway.

        • As for the first concern, I think it would be easy to discriminate between cases where a company was selling token products to try to validate the patent artificially and a company that incorporated selling those products into its business model. That would be a matter for litigation, but wouldn't be any more gray than prior art, originality or utility. The clause would apply to companies that tried to use litigation as the primary revenue source and not production.

          As for the second concern, the patent woul

      • by UCSCTek (806902)

        Sounds nice, but how do you enforce it? What if you claim to be "working on the implementation" of the patent in preparation for production, does that count? How many units do you have to produce? Maybe they can make 1 widget per year that utilizes the patents.

        I think one solution could be the following: damages for patent infringement calculated based on the value the patent-holder has already produced through the implementation of the patent. Example: company A has a patent for product X, company B

      • by iamhassi (659463)
        "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."

        I wouldn't go that far: what if you're some genius doing research and stumble across a new invention or way of doing something but don't have the millions it would cost to put it into action? Of course you should be rewarded for your effort, but not hundreds of millions of dollars.

        I think there should be limits. I don't think yo
        • You could sell the patent or license it. Both cases produce a clear path from the patent to a product and reward the inventor. The only thing that would be ruled out is doing nothing for five years then popping up and demanding payment when a company produces something that tangentially relates to your patent.

    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      I'm not convinced. Patent trolls seem to be the only thing that can repeatedly stand up to big business, get money out of it, and not get bribed to stop or legislated out of existence(yet). We need to learn to imitate their strategy in pro-consumer cases before we get rid of them.
      • by bhtooefr (649901)

        Alternately, set up a patent troll to attack companies that we want to kill.

        Patent trolls normally go for money, and when they're given money, they go away.

        A patent troll that files a patent that is essential to implement something that comes out later, and then sues everyone using it, and successfully stops distribution of many products... would have devastating effects on those companies, the economy, and it would trigger massive patent reform.

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Amen
  • So... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:12AM (#32191608) Journal
    How long before "Non-Practicing Entity" goes from harmless-sounding euphemism to sinister dysphemism, the way terms like "Ethnic Cleansing" have?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn (898314) *

      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 wou

      • A nonpracticing entity is an entity that controls a patent but can't name any products or services that it makes or sells based on this patent. By "make", I don't necessarily mean manufacturing; it could include contracting the manufacturing out to a third party. See my other comment [slashdot.org].
  • by dgr73 (1055610) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:14AM (#32191630)
    The article describes the Nokia Apple patent suit/countersuit situation as a mexican standoff. This has been discussed ad nauseum already here on slashdot and I think it's hardly that. Unless you call one person pointing a water pistol and another aiming a cannon a mexican standoff.

    Assuming both sides claims are deemed to have merit and both refuse to pay licensing fees, Nokia has to think of another implementation for some GUI elements, hardly a gargantuan task. However, if Nokia wins, Apple has to reinvent mobile technology, then get all the networks to support their new implementation.

    • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:30AM (#32191748) Homepage

      I agree that Nokia vs. Apple/Apple vs. Nokia isn't a Mexican standoff but that Nokia probably owns the far more fundamental mobile patents. However, the problem that Nokia has in this is that its most fundamental patents in the mobile space are part of GSM and other standards. 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. Then Nokia could argue that it is, in Nokia's view, not at all unreasonable to ask Apple for a cross-licensing deal because otherwise Apple could exclusively control some of the more recent technologies (multitouch etc.) while Nokia (and similar vendors) would be expected to grant licenses to their patents only because they're part of older standards definitions.

      Apple faces the typical problem of a late entrant: even if you obtain some patents on new technologies, you still need the underlying old technologies and those patents are generaly still valid, given that patents expire only after 20 years (except for a failure to pay renewal fees, which won't happen if the patent holder is Nokia and the patents are valuable). That's why in an area of incremental innovations patents may not be even remotely as helpful to innovative late entrants as many people are led to believe.

      In terms of waster pistol vs. aiming a cannon, I think this also applies to the Apple/HTC situation [itwire.com] and HTC's announcement of yesterday that it's now (counter-)"suing" Apple.

      • 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.

        • by NekSnappa (803141)

          Not quite true. Apple's beef with Nokia is that they were ignoring the "Non-Discriminatory" part of RAND.

          Nokia wanted to have Apple not only pay the "Reasonable" fees that they were collecting from other mobile phone makers. But also wanted Apple to license patents it holds to them as part of the bargain.

        • by mgblst (80109)

          This is wrong. Nokia wanted to charge more that they charge there other clients, this is where the problems arised as far as Apple is concerned.

          Nokia believes they are allowed to charge more to Apple than others, Apple does not believe that is so.

          Apple would be more than happy for cross-licensing.

          You comment is so wrong that it actually detracts from the argument, I would be embarrased to write such trash.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mjwx (966435)

          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.

          To be a bit more precise, Apple paid for the RAND patents as everyone does but Apple did not pay for Nokia's patents not covered by the RAND agreement but proceeded to use

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

      Which will never happen, because two mobile telephony standards (CDMA and GSM, loosely speaking) are more than enough. Even if it did, Apple would need to ensure Telco providers ship equipment, create chipsets for their (and other OEM) use, ensure it is possible to license spectrum, convince Telcos to roll out the massive infrastructure required etc. etc. etc. Of course, the question is, if Apple had not concluded licensing negotiations, why did they infringe on GSM licensing, when there were other alternat

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by d3xt3r (527989)

      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 stan

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by DMiax (915735)

        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 mgblst (80109)

          You clearly have no experience in this area.

          Before Nokia sued, Apple and Nokia were negotiating.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by chowdahhead (1618447)
        We don't know the details of the terms, but we do know from the complaint filed in Delaware that Nokia offered to license the technology based on either a per patent fee or one fee for the pool, in addition to interest. Reportedly, it was Apple that offered cross-licensing using UI and multitouch patents as compensation, presumably in place of fees and fines. Nokia rejected this, likely because these patents probably don't have much intrinsic value and could be invalidated as they are based on software im
      • In reality FRAND is nebulous and undefined, with almost no specific rules for determining what a "fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory" license actually is.

        The FSF agrees that the term is confusing [gnu.org] and proposes the alternate term "uniform fee only" to describe a public offer of a patent license with all the terms and royalties spelled out up front.

    • by Rogerborg (306625)

      It's also not a stand-off because everybody is shooting.

      Best result: collective fatality, i.e. they're all blocked from shipping anything. Let's see how long software patents last if that comes to pass.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

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

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

      • Not only can Apple move to Sprint or Virgin, ATT would have a nice cause to sue Nokia for the loss of Apple.

        The problem Nokia has is that if it sues Apple for patents related to GSM, then everyone who has GSM based products and services would have to start looking elsewhere for alternative technology for fear of being sued when things don't go Nokia's way.

        The consequences of patent lawsuits between big players is much broader than the immediate entities involved.

        Collateral Damage may come back to haunt Noki

  • 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.

  • Um, not quite. (Score:2, Interesting)

    non-practising entities [patent trolls]

    While all patent trolls may be non-practicing entities (NPEs), not all NPEs are patent trolls. Individual inventors, the kind that don't have the spare four or five billion dollars necessary to build a processor lab, are NPEs and often unfairly get labelled trolls. Also, don't forget universities and government laboratories. Under the parent's definition of troll, anyone who invents something but doesn't follow through with marketing a product must necessarily be a troll. The intellectual property world

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:45AM (#32191908) Homepage

    Patent trolls are a problem for big companies that have lots of money. Trolls have nothing to do with HTML5 not being able to recommend a video codec, and they've nothing to do with worries about how Microsoft will use their patents on .doc, XML, or Mono. Some trolls *do* practice their invention, like the mp3 guys that made a packet from trolling - and as a side-effect, completely insignificant to them, forced GNU/Linux distros to omit mp3 support.

    To solve the social problems caused by software patents, we have to abolish them - tweaking the numbers to reduce the problems of mega corporations is not *our* job.

    • Ciaran, we fought together against the proposed EU software patent law years ago and I agree that most if not all of the problems you mention would go away if legislators abolish software patents entirely (I said "most if not all" because a very small part of those mobile patents may be hardware, not software, patents).

      No doubt about the fundamental problem that trolls represent but there's a key difference between them and the big patent holders: a troll will at the end of the day just want to make money.

      • by Altus (1034)

        Your right, Apple doesn't have any patents in the pool and the fact that Steve Jobs talked about possible legal action only indicates that Apple bothered to do some research on the legal viability of various codecs before choosing a backer.

        Look, Apple may do some shit that we don't like here, but we don't need to make shit up. If you think it "Says something" that Steve Jobs talked about the legal viability of a codec then tell us what it says. Being vague and trying to create an evil enemy where none exi

        • Your right, Apple doesn't have any patents in the pool

          That's not known. I just said they need not be a contributor to the pool -- but they might be. Steve Jobs didn't rule out either possibility.

          If you think it "Says something" that Steve Jobs talked about the legal viability of a codec then tell us what it says. Being vague and trying to create an evil enemy where none exists is just dishonest and weakens the rest of your comment.

          Sorry that I had not been more specific on that one. I meant to say that the fact that Apple is in the know (since not even the developers of Theora had an idea that such a pool was being formed) suggests that Apple is at least in some kind of contact with that pool and the possible assertion of patents by that pool, whether or not Apple is directly involved with it, a

    • Patent trolls are a problem for big companies that have lots of money.

      Wouldn't patent trolls be a much bigger problem for small companies, without lots of money, or large patent portfolios?

      A company like Microsoft can drop a $100 million on a bogus lawsuit without a second thought. But, for a small company, with assets under $1 million, that might not be so easy.

      If a small company were to sue to Microsoft over a patent violation, Microsoft would find 20 patent violations with which to counter sue. No matter who is right or wrong, Microsoft would win, just due to staying power

      • by delinear (991444)
        As I understand it, they're a problem for large companies because you pretty much have to accede to the full extent of their demands or your product doesn't ship. That could cost you billions, which puts them in a prime position to really turn the screw. Small companies just aren't such a juicy target for trolls, because the chances are if you try to take them for serious money, they'd be out of business anyway, so they're as likely to just pull the product and, while they still might go out of business, at
  • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Thursday May 13, 2010 @08:55AM (#32192000) Homepage

    The Wired article and most of the media reports and the comments here are focused on patent disputes between the hardware companies involved. But according to a recent announcement, Android is now a high-volume mobile phone operating system and everyone knows that it's a Google project.

    Those vendors who, like HTC, decided to build smartphones running on Android had access to the program code on open-source terms. They may not have a formal contract in place with Google at all, or if there is one, it will be more focused on trademark rights because the software itself is under a free license. Still they probably all took a great deal of confidence from Google's backing of Android.

    I don't mean to criticize Google for what it has (not) done yet: to step into the ring and bail out companies who took major business decisions based on their reliance upon a Google open-source project. But at some point in time, of which one can certainly argue that it hasn't come yet, there will be industry concern and also concern in the wider Free and Open Source Software community over the extent to which Google stands behind the open-source software it puts out. Google has a significant patent portfolio (small compared to the portfolios of IBM, Microsoft and even Apple, but still much bigger than that of HTC). Google could also pay royalties to patent holders given the important role that Android plays in its overall corporate strategy (Google could become a master licensee of the required patents and then grant sublicenses to vendors selling Android-based phones).

    There are rumors that Google plans to open-source the VP8 video codec and it might happen very soon. Multimedia codecs are also a terrible patent minefield. [blogspot.com] Similarly as mobile phone operating software, they are an OEM component, meaning others incorporate them into their commercial products. Again, it's too early to blame Google for anything here, but the fact that Google doesn't try to bail out the vendors that propagate its Android software raises questions and if Google indeed does open-source VP8, industry will probably want to know about the patent situation. I believe that Google should then at the very least publish an analysis of the patent situation [blogspot.com] surrounding VP8, including the reasons why Google believes it doesn't infringe on any of the patents held by the MPEG LA pool. That's just one way to look at it. Commercial vendors may, based on the Android experience, actually ask Google for the possibility of an agreement under which Google would hold them harmless of patent infringement suits.

    Again, the jury is still out on Google and patent problems with its open-source software, but I believe it's in Google's own best interest to counter an impression that Google puts out open-source projects it effectively controls and lets others take not only the risk that is connected with hardware manufacturing but also, even worse in my view, the risk related to possible patent infringement. It would come down to a game of "if Google wins, it wins; if Google loses (due to patents), its hardware partners lose."

    I will be following those future developments closely on my FOSS Patents blog [blogspot.com] covering open-source patent issues. Now it's still too early to claim Google isn't committed to protecting its open-source initiatives.

    • by delinear (991444)
      I don't believe HTC wouldn't have a formal contract in place with Google over the use of Android - they're not only a massive partner with a whole range of Android phones of their own, they even produce Google's physical phone [htc.com] product for them.
      • I don't believe HTC wouldn't have a formal contract in place with Google over the use of Android - they're not only a massive partner with a whole range of Android phones of their own, they even produce Google's physical phone [htc.com] product for them.

        I understand your reasoning and you may very well be right, but given that the Android software is available on Free and Open Source Software terms, I wanted to give Google the benefit of the doubt. Letting down a formal licensee would be even worse than letting down independent parties using the software on open-source terms, although (as I said) Google will at some point have to consider whether it can successfully initiate and promote open-source projects if it stays on the sidelines when patent issues c

  • Begun, the patent wars have and it will not be good for any of us.
  • And eventually we will have a single company that holds all the cards, for everything.

  • 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 comp
    • What are the features that Apple, or the other companies, say are being infringed?

      In the case of Apple, they have patents on the multi-touch interface and the other companies did not license that interface before implementing it.

      In the case of Nokia, they are part of a consortium that holds basic patents on cell phone technology including antenna configurations and cell tower switching algorithms necessary to build any cell phone that uses existing towers.

      You can sum the case up as, both companies are infringing patents. Nokia says Apple's patents aren't as valuable but went ahead and in

    • by mjwx (966435)

      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 didn't have to invent anything, they only had to patent it. I understand Oxford has made a change to the dictiona

  • It seems that the parties involved (Nokia, HTC, Apple, Blackberry, etc.) are more busy fighting for the money rather than taking care of developing OS and applications. No reasons for me to waste money for replacing my old cellphone and my trusted Filofax with a smartphone.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hallucinogen (1263152)
      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 mgblst (80109)

        You shouldn't be rooting for Nokia, they fucked up, and if it was up to them we would still be stuck in the dark ages of smartphones.

        They focus too much on the hardware, which most poeple do not care about, and had absolute shit software.

        It took a computer company to come along and revolutionise the industry... what a joke.

        I put them in the same basket as Palm, they lost the plot along the way, went from greatnest to mediocre.

        Now, Nokia have done amazing things, and invented some great technology. They are,

    • Why do I picture you pulling out and talking on a DynaTac?

Whenever a system becomes completely defined, some damn fool discovers something which either abolishes the system or expands it beyond recognition.

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