Last year saw a marked increase in the number of major legal suits concerning mobile device technology patents (see further down for examples) and it's hard to see that waning. But I think we can expect to see legal teams active in all areas of next-generation technology as well as an increase in the number of patent acquisitions. (See Euronews: Ericsson Eyes Patents Cash Cow.)
That's an area where Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has been particularly active -- it ended 2011 by acquiring 188 patents and 29 patent applications from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) that covered a multitude of technologies, having already jumped on Motorola Mobility LLC 's patent pile. (See Google Buying Moto Mobility for $12.5B .)
Of course, defending and generating income from patents is an ongoing and often lengthy business, so alongside the new deals and lawsuits we'll see in 2012 there will be resolutions of actions initiated years ago.
A case in point here is the licensing agreement Nokia Networks has just signed with Lambda Optical Solutions LLC, a subsidiary of Acacia Research Corp. That deal resolves the litigation brought against NSN by Lambda Optical Solutions in June 2010 regarding the latter's patent for a configurable all-optical switch (patent number 6973229 issued in December 2005).
But NSN was just one of a number of companies sued as part of the same patent infringement case. The other defendants included ADVA Optical Networking , Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), ECI Telecom Ltd. , Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701) and Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA), some of which have settled with Acacia/Lambda. (See Acacia Settles With ECI and NEC Settles Optical Patent Dispute.)
Mobile and optical are prime areas for patent-related legal action but as cloud services become more pervasive we can expect traditional telecom vendors to become embroiled in IT technology litigation too.
Here's a quick reminder of some of the legal action our sector saw in 2011:
- ITC Makes a Moto/Microsoft Ruling
- Sprint VoIP Patent Suit Targets MSOs
- Apple Wins HTC Patent Suit
- It's BT's Turn to Sue Google
- Verizon Gets Stay on ActiveVideo Payments
- Moto Beats Apple in German Court
- Nortel Patent Sale Under Scrutiny
- Verizon Defends Samsung Against Apple
- Google Didn't Want All of Motorola Mobility
- Making Sense of the Handset Patent Plays