Making Sense of the Handset Patent Plays

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has a slew of licensing deals; Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) may soon have Motorola Mobility LLC ; and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has its own patent portfolio large enough to scare any handset maker. Patent power plays are turning the mobile market into a complex and highly litigious space.

The handset market appears to be overrun with lawsuits, but consultant and FOSS Patents blogger Florian Mueller says that litigation is the exception, and licensing is the norm. Every day, there are deals being done behind closed doors. But, lately, as competition has increased, mobile device makers have taken it to the courtroom. (See Handset Makers Air Patent Grievances.)

"A lot of people think a patent is the right to do something, but it's the right to sue someone for doing something," Mueller says. "If you look at what a patent covers, it's an idea or concept. If you implement that idea, you may violate 10 other patents."

Since Android is a relatively new project in an established market, it has to succumb to licensing fees more often than not. The question for Google's ecosystem is whether it can make up for lost time by acquiring Moto's 17,000-patent deep portfolio. (See Google & Moto: Beyond the Patently Obvious.)

It won't be an easy fight. Android handset makers are facing patent battles on two fronts: against Apple, which does not have a track record of licensing, wanting instead to block companies from selling devices or cause them to modify designs, and against Microsoft, which simply wants to collect as much in licensing fees as it can.

Thursday's news that both Acer Inc. and ViewSonic Corp. have signed on as Microsoft licensees rather than wait for Google's supposed shield doesn't bode well for the Android ecosystem. Likewise, Moto hasn't been immune to lawsuits after the merger was announced either.

Patents & posturing
Here's a snapshot of the handset makers' latest shake-ups and patent holdings that suggest the patent warring won't be over anytime soon.

  • Microsoft has exerted its patent power to reach licensing deals with several companies including High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498), Velocity Micro, Itronix, and now Acer and ViewSonic for patents related to Android smartphones and tablets -- and Chrome devices too for ViewSonic.

    Microsoft is currently suing Motorola and Barnes & Noble, amongst others, for patent infringement. (See Microsoft Takes Moto Back to Court and What Google-Moto Means for Microsoft.)

  • Samsung Corp. has about 100,000 patents worldwide, and 28,000 in the U.S. alone, Mueller estimates. The South Korean company is currently engaged in around 20 lawsuits with Apple in 12 countries, with the latest activity in Japan. (See Apple Rains on Japan's LTE Tab Parade, Apple vs. Android Patent Spat Goes Global, Samsung Tries to Block Apple Sales in the US, Apple Escalates Samsung Lawsuit and Apple Sues Samsung for iCopying.)

  • HTC is suing Apple, borrowing Google's patents it won less than a year ago. Bloomberg, citing U.S. Patent and Trademark Office records, says that Google is lending HTC four patents originating from Motorola, three from Openwave Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: OPWV) and two from Palm Inc. . HTC also has some patents of its own through several recent acquisitions. (See Apple Wins Patent Victory Over HTC, Google Slams Android Patent Attackers, HTC Buys a Patent Power Play and Apple Sues HTC.)

  • Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) has around 11,000 patent families, Mueller says, which suggests one invention patented in multiple jurisdictions. It is one of the only companies to have won against Apple, which now pays the Finnish handset maker licensing fees. (See Nokia Fires Volley at Apple's iPhone .)

    — Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

  • sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 4:54:22 PM
    re: Making Sense of the Handset Patent Plays

    Looks like Apple's lack of negotiating paid off in Germany. It won against Samsung to ban all Galaxy Tab sales from retailers in the market. Ouch.


    Parikshitandhare 12/5/2012 | 4:54:16 PM
    re: Making Sense of the Handset Patent Plays

    The war, as we see, is heating up. Hope it's not a one sided battle with Apple taking away everything from everyone.

    Can Google/Microsoft challenge the mammoth that is Apple..??

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