Much apologies to Mr. Lucas on the play on words in the title (I am an avid Star Wars fan), but it is apropo to the saga unfolding regarding the Android platform for mobile devices, and a microcosm of the larger patent warfare being waged for turf in the mobile platform marketpace. As first reported here, here, and now here, the mobile platform market seems to have taken off since Apple’s introduction of the iPhone…and now the iPad (hence my use of the term “platform” instead of “smartphone” for this market). Nothing like the competition to get the creative juices flowing…and the inevitable legal actions sometimes deemed necessary to wield intellectual property rights to protect market space (or otherwise grab a greater piece of it).
Kudos to Design Language News for creating the following chart to illustrate the web of legal actions occurring within the mobile platform market:
Just days after Microsoft filed patent infringement suits against Motorola alleging a number of Motorola’s own Android-platform devices infringe nine of Microsoft’s patents, Motorola has entered the fray in a different way – opening with a salvo of lawsuits through its Motorola Mobility subsidiary against Apple in both Northern Illinois and Southern Florida over the technologies it alleges are infringing in Apple’s iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and other Mac products. Detail of the declaratory judgment action – a preemptive strike – can be found at courtesy of Patently Apple here. In fact, multiple complaints spanning 18 separate Motorola patents are being asserted against Apple involving everything from 3G mobile communications and antenna design to synchronization of mobile devices and Apple’s MobileMe platform – basically everything Apple does that involve mobile communications, and then some. Like Microsoft’s parallel stance on stopping infringing imports of Motorola, Motorola also filed an International Trace Commission complaint against Apple to ban the importation, marketing and sale of Apple iOS devices and other Mac products. To me, this is basically the legal equivalent of lobbing a thermonuclear warhead at Apple. What’s interesting here is that Motorola claims failed licensing negotiations with Apple forced its hand. Perhaps. Seems to me that Motorola saw the proverbial writing on the digital wall regarding some of Motorola’s own touch screen mobile devices, and how they might have a thing or two to worry about with Apple’s own substantial patent portfolio covering the iPhone and related device technologies. As of this past week, Apple seems to agree – it has launched is own nuclear assault on Motorola in separate lawsuits in Wisconsin asserting that virtually all of Motorola’s smartphones infringe its patented multi-touch technologies. Nice move – the nature of the Apple infringement claims involve patents that rest outside of the claims in the Motorla suit, so Apple chose a plaintiff-friendly forum (and a rather speedy one at that) to lob its own thermonuclear counterattack.
This cascade of legal actions is quite amazing if not for certain ironies presented. I will be writing more soon on the irony of the “Java Wars” involving Oracle and Google that may have touched off this melee. In fact, it seems some of these smartphone providers (and perhaps Java as an “open” source platform) are destined to be “smarting” after all is said and done…something that may not seem…well…very smart (or open) at all. For some, however, such patent litigation is an absolute necessity for strategic survival in the mobile platform marketplace.