So try to follow the bouncing ball of this gargantuan patent-caused waste of energy and resources.
First, Google’s Android smartphone platform is under attack from a number of competitors, all using patents against Android–including competitors Apple (iPhone), Microsoft (Windows phone), RIM (Blackberry), and Motorola, as well as Samsung.1 (The diagram above right is an improved version, by Mike Masnick, of earlier, flawed diagrams depicting patent lawsuits in the smartphone space, shown in miniature below.)
Now the Samsung part is a mess: apparently Apple sued Samsung for patent infringement, as part of its attack on the Android platform. It seems Apple needs the state’s help to fight off competition. And then Samsung strikes back against Apple with its own patent infringement claims. And at the same time, another division of Samsung is one of Apple’s key suppliers of SSD drives, memory chips, and displays. Got it? Apple sues its key supplier, to stop Android competition; its key supplier sues it back; and yet the arrangement between Apple and the Samsung division supplying it with these components continues on. Wow.
Meanwhile, Apple is also at the receiving end of patent aggression, e.g. the lawsuits by Lodsys, the Intellectual Ventures-connected patent troll, who is suing Apple’s iOS developers, and the recent suit by HTC.
As for Microsoft, which is also attacking Android with patent threats and suits, it has also been on the receiving end of patent attacks, recently losing a $300 million patent judgment against i4i.2
Google, so far reluctant to go on the patent offensive, has been trying to acquire more patents to defend itself from the onslaught of suits by its competitors. If it has enough patents in its arsenal, then Apple and Microsoft might lay off suing Google, for fear of a counter-patent suit. Which is why Google’s $3 billion bid was not enough to acquire bankrupt Nortel’s 6000 patents: a “consortium” (hello, FTC!) of its competitors, including Apple, Microsoft, and RIM, obtained the Nortel patents for $4.5 billion.3 (RIM, apparently now seeking to use patents to hammer the Android competitor, of course was previously forced to pay $600M to NTP for patent infringement; and it has recently made a licensing deal with Intellectual Ventures for 30,000 IP assets–whether this is defensive, or for offensive purposes, I can no longer keep track.)
Back to the subject of this post. A recent entry into the patent club using the club of patents to hammer Google’s Android platform is Motorola.4 And yet today it’s reported that Google is buying Motorola Mobility for $12.5 Billion. Yet another enemy-friend deal. The WSJ says that the purpose of the acquisition is to “make Google more competitive in the mobile-computing market.” Yet, can it be doubted that a major reason for this huge purchase is to “give Google control of Motorola Mobility’s attractive patent portfolio after the Internet giant recently missed out on a bid for Nortel Networks Corp.’s portfolio”? This follows on the heels of Google’s purchase of 1,000 patents from IBM, and its possible acquisition of Interdigital patents.5 (Apple Apple has also sued Motorola for patent infringement.)
So let’s get this straight. Apple and Samsung are suing each other, while Apple relies on another division of Samsung for key parts. Apple and Microsoft–and apparently RIM–are using patents aggressively to stop competition, despite each having been hammered hard by others (including patent trolls) for patent infringement. Google, who seems to want patents for defensive purposes, lost out on the Nortel patent shield (acquired by its competitors Apple, RIM, Microsoft, etc.), but has paid billions of dollars now for patents from IBM and even from Motorola (recently its patent enemy), and may pay more for Interdigital’s patents–in a continuing escalation of the patent war in the smartphone segment of the market.
Which, of course, is just one part of the market. Similar battles are being fought all the time, on all different fronts. I wonder if this is what the Founders had in mind when they put that unfortunate patent clause in the US Constitution?
- Android in trouble; Samsung strikes back at Apple with ten patent infringement claims; Apple sues Samsung over Galaxy products; Microsoft Demands Samsung Pay $15 Royalties For Every Android Phone It Sells; Android Patent Trouble Worsens: Motorola Considers Collecting IP Royalties; see also other posts about the Android mess here. [↩]
- Microsoft Demands Samsung Pay $15 Royalties For Every Android Phone It Sells; i4i recently won $300M from Microsoft. [↩]
- Apple, Microsoft, Sony, RIM et al. won for $4.5B. [↩]
- Android Patent Trouble Worsens: Motorola Considers Collecting IP Royalties [↩]
- Google buying more patents to defend itself. [↩]