Apple is accustomed to being on the winning side of patent infringement suits, but a new ruling in Germany has turned the tables on Cupertino. The court has found that Apple’s iPhone and 3G iPad products infringe a Motorola patent covering the implementation of GPRS mobile technology. This isn’t the first win for Moto, but this one does give it the legal authority to ban sales of the infringing products in Germany.
I’m just going to be blunt: Our patent system sucks. It’s terrible to deal with, protects ridiculous things, and encourages frivolous litigation. It’s about as popular as a leper in a nudist colony.
For 10 years, patent reform has had the backing of major corporations who, like everyone else, are sick of patent trolls and costly defensive IP purchases. Nobody—not consumer groups, business, or inventors—believes this system works. Despite all of this, Congress managed to punt on real change.
Apple has the patent on “slide to unlock”, but Google isn’t sitting on the sidelines when it comes to seemingly inconsequential user interface tricks. The Android OS maker has been granted a patent on its pattern unlock feature, or as the patent calls it, “Touch Gesture Actions From A Device’s Lock Screen.” This has been a staple of Android phones since the beginning, and now it’s locked down, more or less.
Over the last year, Microsoft has embarked on a crusade to secure license fees from device makers that use the Android operating system. While Google provides the Android source code for free, Microsoft claims to own patents infringed by Android. most OEMs have capitulated and payed up, but Barnes and Noble, which sells the Nook line of e-readers, has gone to court. Today, the bookseller turned tablet-pusher has asked the feds to get involved. B&N claims that regulators should investigate Microsoft for attempting to drive competition out of business.
As if Apple’s ridiculous tablet design patent didn’t hold enough ominous tidings for the mobile tech industry, the US Patent and Trademark Office just awarded the company another ludicrous claim: that's right, “slide to unlock” is officially an Apple patent. That means all the non-Apple phones and tablets that use the omnipresent unlocking maneuver are possibly infringing on Apple’s intellectual property – which could lead to complex legal battles that tie up competitors’ products, as Apple has done with the Galaxy Tab in Australia.
Something that was not discussed at the Android 4.0 and Galaxy Nexus unveiling recently is the state of the patent system. Android has had more than its fair share of run-ins with software patents in recent years, and Samsung mobile president Shin Jong-kyun made some telling statements that were only released after the event. According to Shin, Samsung and Google while developing the Galaxy Nexus actively worked to avoid patents they knew to be held by Apple
The Kindle Fire isn’t even due to ship to consumers for another month, but already it has attracted its first patent suit. Smartphone Technologies LLC, which as far as we can tell doesn’t actually make anything, has sued Amazon for infringing on four of its patents. These patents seem to describe operating a touchscreen device by tapping on icons; apparently that’s a real patent.
If you’ve never heard of Intellectual Ventures, get your confused face ready. This patent holding firm, which makes nothing but does hold about 35,000 patents, has filed suit against Motorola Mobility for patent infringement. IV says it has been in talks with Motorola for some time, but has been unable to reach a deal for licensing of the IV patent portfolio. Unwilling to allow “ongoing infringement,” the lawyers are gearing up.
Another day, another story about the ridiculous patent wars being waged by big name tech companies. Samsung’s been the target of hostility by Apple in courtrooms around the world, as the Cupertino company files injunction after injunction to try and block Galaxy Tab sales over an infringement claim. Maybe that legal specter was hanging over Samsung’s shoulders; today, the Korean company agreed to a royalty deal that will have Samsung giving cash to Microsoft whenever Samsung sells an Android-based device.
In a rare example of bipartisanship, the US Congress passed a patent reform bill, and President Obama has just signed it into law. The America Invents Act is the most significant revamp of the patent system in decades. It aims to speed the review process, weed out bad patents, and ensure the right party gets the patent.