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Android Patents The Courts Apple

What If Android Lost the Patent War? 248

Posted by Soulskill
from the technically-just-a-police-action dept.
adeelarshad82 writes "The patent system is certainly complex, especially when it comes to smartphones. The Financial Times estimates that as many as 250,000 patents are at stake in a smartphone. Industry titans like Microsoft, Nokia, and Apple have tens of thousands of patents each, but Google's portfolio is reportedly on the low end — 'under 1,000.' Taking advantage of the opportunity, Apple has its patent strategy aimed squarely at the number one rival to its iOS mobile operating system, Android, which is now embedded in 40 percent of all U.S. smartphones compared to Apple's 26.6 percent. Apple's lawyers have been aggressively suing Android manufacturers HTC and Samsung for various technologies, from the 'look and feel' to how it connects to broadband networks. A recently published article takes a deep dive into the lawsuits' possible outcomes and their effect on end users."
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What If Android Lost the Patent War?

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  • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:27PM (#37025186)
    Try to take over the world. Or at least all their money.

    Pinkey and the Brain (lawyers, newly qualified)

    • by Tr3vin (1220548)

      His name was Pinky! Don't you dare misspell the names of my beloved childhood cartoon characters. I should also note that Pinky and Brain were never successful. Well, they were once when Pinky came up with the plan, but Brain managed to mess everything up.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Also, some of those plots clearly took weeks and even months to come to fruition. Perhaps if they had focused on them rather than starting a new one every day they might have been successful.

        • by Tr3vin (1220548)
          A new plot every day is much better than a constantly changing plot that continually adds layer upon layer of complexity to only finish after six years by being religion.
      • by MBCook (132727)
        Shiny pants!
      • C'mon. I suddenly realise that I have the first post and it's my duty to save us from another homeopathic Tamagotchi porn posting. I post something vaguely related to the topic and without anything much offensive.. You expect spelling?

        My posting even has a serious point though. We'll soon have a situation where everybody from the USA, even cartoon characters, have to be drafted in as lawyers to keep up with all the ongoing law suits. In most countries, the majority of politicians are now lawyers by t

        • by Tr3vin (1220548)
          Harvey Birdman can easily handle all of the legal cases. I do have to agree, though. Software patents are bad. They aren't effective enough to protect the little guys since the big guys will almost always be able to out-pantent the smaller guys. They even serve to stifle innovation from the big guys. I am one of those that believes that software falls under the category of math, so it should not be patentable.
          • by CastrTroy (595695)
            I'm of the opinion that software already has too many other protections and doesn't need patents. Firstly, the source code and binaries are protected by copyright. Meaning that someone can't just take your product, copy it outright, and sell it for a profit. Secondly, many employees who write software have non-compete agreements in their contracts, meaning you don't have to worry about people who are developing your software taking all your ideas and running away with them to another company. Thirdly, the
        • by Paul Fernhout (109597) on Monday August 08, 2011 @06:57PM (#37027942) Homepage

          "Getting rid of patents, at least in software, would free up vast amounts of resources."

          That's the problem, isn't it. What would all the lawyers do for an income? Especially when many people have already passed the point of diminishing returns for more stuff?

          Excessive bureaucracy is a from of "make work" to prop up a society that can not admit its socioeconomic model (based on an income-through-jobs link) is broken in an age of abundance from cheap technology (like from an Android-powered supercomputer in your pocket relative to a 1970s definition of supercomputer); see also this knol I put together on good and bad ways to deal with that:
              http://knol.google.com/k/beyond-a-jobless-recovery [google.com]

          • by russotto (537200)

            That's the problem, isn't it. What would all the lawyers do for an income?

            I'd suggest some sort of televised tournament involving fights to the death.

  • by nschubach (922175) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:28PM (#37025192) Journal

    I'd be more interested in reading what would happen if software was considered un-patentable tomorrow and all software patents rendered void.

    • That would surely be pretty interesting to see large companies collapse because of that. But their lobbies are way too strong for this to happen...
      • by ZombieBraintrust (1685608) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:36PM (#37025290)
        What companies other than Intellectual Ventures would collapse? Apple, HTC, Google, and Microsoft would still be in buisness. They make money by selling products protected by copyright. These are patents that have been largely uninforced for the last 20 years. Other than IV and a bunch of 2 lawyer operations in Texas there is not much buisness in software patents.
        • by alen (225700)

          IV is actually owned by google, MS and other fortune 500 tech companies. it's like a mutual fund

          • That is a bit misleading. Those companies have "invested" in IV patent funds. These funds allow the companies to use the patents in the fund and they get a portion of the revenue the fund generates. They are basically companies that have paid the ransom IV has demanded. IV has taken patents out of these funds and sold them to independent lawyers. These lawyers then go out and sue non investors. That is why apple app developers are being sued instead of Apple.
        • Apparently there are more “This American Life [thisamericanlife.org]” listeners on Slashdot than I would've expected.

      • by Co0Ps (1539395)
        Why exactly would "large companies" collapse? The only reason big companies gathers a large portfolio of software patents is either to troll or to counter-sue if they are sued themselves. If software patents where abolished we would see a surge in innovation and a surplus of lawyers.
        • by rmstar (114746)

          Why exactly would "large companies" collapse?

          Because patents are part of their valuation. Credits are obtained with patents as a security. They are assigned value, and kept as assets. If they become worthless over night, many companies will just be bankrupt in the morning.

          • by zget (2395308)
            Patents also promote investing in research & development. I doubt Microsoft and other companies would be spending billions in research if everything they discovered or came up with was immediately available to everyone else. With the US financial situation how it is, I'm surprised every american here on slashdot seem to try to bring down the last thing that is still done in the US. Research. Everything else is already produced in China, Taiwan and other cheaper countries.
            • by rmstar (114746) on Monday August 08, 2011 @03:07PM (#37025638)

              Patents also promote investing in research & development.

              No, they don't. There's plenty of evidence out there refuting your claim.

              I doubt Microsoft and other companies would be spending billions in research if everything they discovered or came up with was immediately available to everyone else.

              There are many barriers to entry aside from patents. Actually getting something done is one, for example.

            • But they are immediately available to everyone else because no one reads patents. You think China is looking at patents? They bairly pay attention to copyright. You think the guy in his garage working on a startup is looking at patents? He doesn't have the time to go through 200000 patents every year.
      • by Z00L00K (682162)

        They would hardly collapse through that - the patent suits are there just to discredit and mess up things.

        What would happen is that the other companies would try to find other ways to be competitive - and maybe force them to really think about quality rather than litigation to stay on the edge.

    • You mean like in Canada and many other countries around the world?
  • 250,000? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:32PM (#37025244)

    May I be allowed to say: holy fucking shit. 250,000 patents in one phone? Insane. Absolutely insane. The patent system is supposed to be used so a new device has maybe a handful of patents in it. Quite often, only one. Because very few inventions are really novel and deserving of protection. But everyone on /. should know this already, and I'm just treading old ground.

    I'll end this by just saying: fuck lawyers. There is good reason why so many people despise and hate them, and our present patent system is an excellent example. Leeches, most of 'em (to be fair, a few are alright... but very, very few.)

    • by Desler (1608317)

      The patent system is supposed to be used so a new device has maybe a handful of patents in it.

      Why? Because you said so?

      • The patent system is supposed to be used so a new device has maybe a handful of patents in it.

        Why? Because you said so?

        No, because we're talking about patents in the US, and, by constitutional decree, they're only supposed to cover Discoveries.

    • by NitroWolf (72977)

      May I be allowed to say: holy fucking shit. 250,000 patents in one phone? Insane. Absolutely insane. The patent system is supposed to be used so a new device has maybe a handful of patents in it. Quite often, only one. Because very few inventions are really novel and deserving of protection. But everyone on /. should know this already, and I'm just treading old ground.

      I'll end this by just saying: fuck lawyers. There is good reason why so many people despise and hate them, and our present patent system is an excellent example. Leeches, most of 'em (to be fair, a few are alright... but very, very few.)

      Lawyers are a consequence of bad law, not the other way around. Lawyers are not the problem for the most part... it's the people you elected to office and passed the laws that make lawyers necessary.

      Indirectly, it's more your fault than the lawyers.

      • by Old97 (1341297)
        According to this, throughout US history, most members of Congress are lawyers. http://www.legalreform-now.org/menu1_5.htm [legalreform-now.org]
        • THIS!

          If there was ever a reason to separate the three branches of governance this is it. Prevent people from serving in two branches of government at the same time. Since this is only a problem with Lawyers (part of the Judicial branch by default) prevent Lawyers from EVER holding office of Executive or Legislative branches of government ... ever.

          • Look, I despise the practices of lawyers (as a group) just as much as the next /.'er, but I don't think you thought this through very well.

            Prevent people from serving in two branches of government at the same time.

            I'm not well-enough versed in the Constitution to claim whether or not an individual person could legally hold offices in two or more branches of the government simultaneously. Intuitively, I'd say "not" but I don't know for sure, because honestly, the idea never occurred to me. However, for the point I believe you are trying to make (as opposed to what you

    • Re:250,000? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ZombieBraintrust (1685608) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:44PM (#37025400)
      http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/h_counts.htm [uspto.gov] More patents were granted this year than in the first 100 years of usa history. Most of them useless. Many of them duplicates of other patents. Some of them on DNA found in nature.
    • by Co0Ps (1539395)

      Ah, you should go out and tell people how the patent system is *supposed* to be used then since apparently the problem is that people have misunderstood the whole thing. I'm really tired of the "the software patent system really works in theory, but people/organization are not using it correctly" argument. Let's pretend that the argument makes sense, then we could also argue that "the communist system really works in theory, but people wasn't using it correctly".

      If a system can be abused it's broken. You

      • by Baloroth (2370816)

        Software patents do *not* work "in theory." (Neither does communism, IMHO, but I must tip my hat to the nice straw man/ red herring argument there) The people who created the system are, in point of fact, lawyers and companies who want to create business for themselves and monopolies, respectively. As someone commented above, most members of Congress are lawyers. And by definition so are all the members of our court system. Lawyers love business, like all professions, and I have no problem with that necessa

    • by kiwimate (458274)

      May I be allowed to say

      No, you may not.

      The patent system is supposed to be used so a new device has maybe a handful of patents in it.

      I liked this [slashdot.org] response.

      I'll end this by just saying: fuck lawyers. There is good reason why so many people despise and hate them, and our present patent system is an excellent example.

      Ah, well, at least you've got some well reasoned and sensible discourse going on. Thanks for the value you've added to the discussion.

  • One Patent, Please! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:32PM (#37025248) Journal

    The Financial Times estimates that as many as 250,000 patents are at stake in a smartphone. Industry titans like Microsoft, Nokia, and Apple have tens of thousands of patents each, but Google's portfolio is reportedly on the low end — 'under 1,000.'

    Luckily patents are not created equally and I would imagine that companies decades older than Google and with far more product lines, areas of business, etc have more patents. Is this really grounds for assuming Android is teetering upon a rain slick precipice of darkness?

    I think patents are kind of like nuclear warheads and mutually assured destruction requires only that you have a couple thousand strategically positioned with MIRV ... er Lawyer guidance modules. Legions and legions of lawyers. Row upon row of mindless litigant bastards that will close ranks when one of their number is befallen by a fatal case of morals or common sense.

    • by NitroWolf (72977)

      Row upon row of mindless litigant bastards that will close ranks when one of their number is befallen by a fatal case of morals or common sense.

      I don't think that word means what you think it means. Perhaps you mean "litigious?"

  • by deweyhewson (1323623) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:33PM (#37025254)

    Software patents are a pox on this nation. They undermine the system, stifle, rather than motivation, innovation, and are used as clubs by the bullies in industry.

    The idea that I can "create" something intangible, easily replicated, and quite literally out of nothing simply by typing some characters on a keyboard is absolutely insane, and should never have been allowed in the first place. Had the system existed like this centuries ago, the book market would have been driven into the ground by publishers who owned the patent on "arranging characters on a page to create words and express ideas".

    And the fact hat Apple is choosing to beat Android into submission with them, rather than make a superior product, is very telling indeed.

    • by fyngyrz (762201) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:40PM (#37025340) Homepage Journal

      And the fact hat Apple is choosing to beat Android into submission with them, rather than make a superior product, is very telling indeed.

      That's not a fact. That's an opinion. An argument can be made that Apple is making the superior product and beating down Android/Google with patents (which are not all software patents, I should point out.)

      I'm no fan of software patents, I think they're entirely wrong-headed, but if you're going to hold Apple's feet to the fire, at least do it with a clear view of what is going on. They make plenty of real mistakes and do lots of obnoxious things, no need to invent fictitious ones.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        And the fact hat Apple is choosing to beat Android into submission with them, rather than make a superior product, is very telling indeed.

        That's not a fact. That's an opinion. An argument can be made that Apple is making the superior product and beating down Android/Google with patents

        Uh, the fact they need to beat down on their competitors is a very, very compelling argument against Apple having the superior product.

        If the Ipad was truly so superior to the tablet Samsung produces then it would not need to use the courts to artificially stifle competition because to do so is a very expensive operation which is not needed when the competitors are unable to compete. These suits targeting Samsung are nothing less then an attempt to force Samsung out of the market, Apple did not ask for l

    • And the fact hat Apple is choosing to beat Android into submission with them, rather than make a superior product, is very telling indeed.

      I take your point, but I'll point out that Apple probably thinks they're doing both—why not, if you legally can?—not one instead of the other. I don't have enough experience with the various products to have an opinion on whether they're right.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        Using the law as an excuse for your misdeeds only works if you're not also lobbying the crap out of the government to bend said laws to your advantage.

    • > The idea that I can "create" something intangible, easily replicated, and quite literally out of nothing simply by typing some characters on
      > a keyboard is absolutely insane, and should never have been allowed in the first place.

      Believe it or not, it gets worse. About 10-15 years ago, copyright was extended beyond mere mechanical reproduction of blueprints to actual architectural design. So, someone who comes up with an "innovation" like a garage with built-in recess to accommodate an electric-car c

  • by CarsonChittom (2025388) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:38PM (#37025296) Homepage

    If only they'd cited Florian Mueller near the beginning instead of at the end! Then I wouldn't have to have read so much to know that PCMag doesn't know what it's talking about.

    • by exomondo (1725132)
      FM;DR
  • by Crayon Kid (700279) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:38PM (#37025298)

    I realise that Slashdot and PCMag are US-oriented but I'm getting a bit tired of articles written as if what happens in the US affects the whole world. Where is Apple suing HTC and Samsung? In the US. That kind of patent bullshit does not fly everywhere in the world, and HTC and Samsung are not even mainly US-based. Granted, the US is a big important market, but it's not everything.

    So ok, worse case scenario, they win and the US is taken over by Apple alone. Frankly, I doubt Microsoft will let that happen, 'cause it needs hardware to put their OS on, and we all know Apple will never let them put it on theirs in a million years. But ok, let's say for the sake of argument.

    So? Why should the rest of the world care? I'm seriously asking. How will the rest of the world be affected by a decision given in one country, that's the host of a fairly atypical, malformed and out-of-control patent system? Will they be able to replicate this feat elsewhere in the world?

    • by ctid (449118)

      I think that you're asking this question a few years too soon. At the moment the size of the US market drives and supports investment. I suspect that you need to be sure that you will sell a large number of devices there before you can afford to develop new products. India and China will eventually start to drive innovation at the cutting edge but individual people there are just not wealthy enough yet. This is speculation because I'm not an expert in this stuff.

    • Many folks here address issues from a US of A perspective then extend their often flawed logic to world scenarios.

      In reality, if Android lost the battle, it would still flourish in the rest of the world, as it is doing now.

      Heck, Nokia is almost unheard of in major US markets, but is doing quite well worldwide.

      I liked your assertion:

      ...Granted, the US is a big important market, but it's not everything...

      • Well, maybe...but Google is a U.S. company, as is Apple and Microsoft. Maybe I'm just not thinking this through all the way, but it seems to me that until/unless these companies remove themselves from the U.S. or until/unless comparable companies with no U.S. presence arise, legal issues here will still have ramifications abroad.
    • by artor3 (1344997) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:59PM (#37025564)

      You should care because if Android phones lose the entire US market, they will become much less profitable to make. As a result, companies will either spend less money making them or raise their prices, since engineering costs will now be amortized over a smaller number of sales. Likewise, app developers will shift their focus towards iOS, so that they can reach the US market.

      End result, Android phones become more expensive, lose their edge on hardware, and get fewer apps developed for them.

      Economies are interconnected. Don't think for one moment that bad things happening in one part of the world won't ripple over and affect you.

    • So? Why should the rest of the world care? I'm seriously asking. How will the rest of the world be affected by a decision given in one country, that's the host of a fairly atypical, malformed and out-of-control patent system? Will they be able to replicate this feat elsewhere in the world?

      To answer you more seriously (though just off the top of my head) than in my other reply, it seems likely to me that a business would spread its costs out as much as possible, in order to minimize the burden on consumers. If HTC or Samsung has higher costs (from patent licensingfees) in bringing a phone to market in the US, that would then mean that consumers of those brands in every country would pay a (slightly) higher price for their phones. Further, as you say, the US is "a big important market"

    • by Ogive17 (691899)
      Isn't Apple also trying to get an injunction on Samsung tablets in Australia?
    • by 0123456 (636235) on Monday August 08, 2011 @03:46PM (#37026034)

      So? Why should the rest of the world care? I'm seriously asking. How will the rest of the world be affected by a decision given in one country, that's the host of a fairly atypical, malformed and out-of-control patent system?

      Because the US government spends a considerable amount of time and effort trying to push their concept of 'Intellectual Property' on the rest of the world.

  • Google would pay. The amount of information that they can collect through these devices is too valuable for them to toss in their cards. Either that or they remove the infringing bits of code, some of which aren't vital to Android, as best they can or find ways to get around them. Additionally, they could just buy some patents of their own, grouping with whomever else they need to and use that to strengthen their position.

    One way or another, though, they're going to need to pay something to someone. Hell
    • Yep, this is the great horror that awaits Android should the apocalypse happen and "Android lose the patent war" (who comes up with this shit?) Google would have to pay license fees (just like every other company out there) and pass them on to handset makers, oh the humanity !

    • by shentino (1139071)

      Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.

  • by drolli (522659) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:46PM (#37025418) Journal

    Google patents are not so many. But the companies who would be immediately hurt - they hold a lot. I mean the idea of starting a all-out patent-war against Sony, HTC, Samsung, Dell, Archos, Asus and some chinese manufacturerers (many of them veterans in the PIM/mobile business), which could block a company easily from half of the markets, would be stupid. I mean sure Apple *could* bet that Sony does not find some Japan-only patents (yeah, they exist) (moreover in JP they would go against NTT...). Sure they can bet that the legal fight in intransparent judical systems are worth it.

    It would be much more reasonable to compate the patent stack and pay some money and settle the thing by agreeing not to step on anybodies feet.

    • Did you miss the part where the consortium that bought those Nortel patents recently included not only Apple but also Sony, RIM and Ericsson. What makes you think all those companies you mentioned are willing to be dragged into a patent war by Google ? I see these guys licensing WebOS or heaven forbid Windows Phone 7 before being dragged into that kind of insanity.

      • by drolli (522659)

        No i did not miss that point. In the end they all want to sell something. It may be a problem for google, the phone company. So maybe google stops selling own android devices.

        That would not hurt at all i guess. The fact that they bought this patents together means they want to settle it friendly, since they include ios, android and qnx based phone makers, which means that these three companies probably have very far reaching agreements no to step on each others toes.

        And responsible for patent violations is

    • by fermion (181285)
      So Samsung has many patents, but has a temporary retraining order issued against in Australia.

      It is also interesting to note that these companies are competing against one another. While it would be a competitive advantage to protect themselves from lawsuits, there is a need to differentiate and sell products. This implies it may not be best for all to put patents into a communal Android pool. Indeed,the fact that many Android OEM seem to fighting and paying MS individually might indicate they wish to

      • by drolli (522659)

        Believe me they will find a possibility to team up if its in the interest of everybody and fight against each other where appropriate. However, if android sinks, they all loose money. Android was a gift from heaven for most of them who ran into solutions which could not compete or had other hooks. letting them kill android would make the smart phone market a present to apple (consumers) and rim (business).

  • by paulsnx2 (453081) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:46PM (#37025420)
    Well, take a page from Intellectual Ventures.

    Sell a few selected patents to an independent shell company. That company, which neither creates or sells products and is out of the control of Google, will be free to sue Apple and Oracle (and any other threat to the Android market) freely for patent infringement, but not Google (due to a contract that went along with the sell). This independent company cannot be targeted for patent infringement no matter how many patents Apple and company might have. Any funds can flow to filing more patents and buying more patents in order to maintain their attacks.

    Or better yet, funds collected might be used to fund patent reform efforts (again by contract).

    1000 patents is plenty to launch a number of these companies, which could cause Apple huge amounts of damage, while Google itself (not really making phones directly) would be largely immune from this sort of attach.

    I have been thinking about this for a while, and can't really see a flaw in the approach, other than it is really Evil.
    • Well it protects from the definition of counter-suing, but apple would know what it is and file a suit out of spite anyway. In addition every patent google sold to be used offensively, is a patent they can't use defensively. So Troll Inc sues apple for multitouch idea X, apple sues google for multitouch idea X, apple blocks lawsuit from troll inc with their patent, then attacks google, google is defenseless because they don't have the patent.
  • by Wokan (14062) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:48PM (#37025442) Journal

    I tether a laptop to a feature phone and tell Apple, Microsoft, and Nokia to suck it.

  • by jeti (105266) on Monday August 08, 2011 @02:49PM (#37025446) Homepage

    I immediately loaded the article and searched for "Florian Müller". Imagine my surprise when the name didn't come up. His first mention is on page 2.

  • but no one has complained about vertical, circular or scribbly swipe? The patents should lie into how swipes are implemented...although i can't imagine algorithms being too different standing on their own as far as code goes but the code is going to be different because the callback mechanisms are different in relation to the OS backend.
  • In my opinion, Google does not spend billions of dollars patenting every little obvious feature of their software because they know that software patents will eventually be gone. However, the U.S. appears completely serious about software patents given that the current patent reform bill contains no language that would improve the software patent situation, let alone abolish them. Since our political system is owned by corporations, software patent reform won't happen until the most powerful corporations
  • If they are software patents then most countries are not affected. The problem would be mostly the USA and Japan. If I am not mistaken: China, India and the EU do not have software patents. Also in Latin America there should be no problem selling such phones. And I doubt that it is any different in Africa. So in the end it is a local problem.

    If these patents are on hardware designs, the situation would be slightly different. And it could be a big issue. However, on the hardware market this is no longer a ga

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Monday August 08, 2011 @04:11PM (#37026382) Homepage

    Then Google would have to buy Microsoft, Nokia, and Apple.

  • If Google lost and Android was no more, then I would look at WebOS. The Palm Pre was underpowered, but the OS was not that bad. I liked it more than Android in many ways. Unfortunately, like beta-max, it lost out.

  • Oracle is suing Google for patent infringement - the Dalvik VM appears to directly infringe the old Sun patents. They have emails that seem to show that Google knew about the possible infringement and proceeded anyway.

    The Apple patents are a sideshow - Oracle vs Google is where it's at.

    Oh, then once Oracle is done then Apple is next in line.

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