Patent Wars: How Many More Tech Giants Will Clash?

AllThingsD has conducted an exclusive interview with Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo! Inc.  (NASDAQ:YHOO)’s interim CEO Ross Levinsohn, and from the sound of it, it looks like both companies have not only buried the silly hatchet but are also set on becoming best buddies.

As we reported yesterday, Facebook and Yahoo! have agreed to end the patent war and develop a strategic partnership that benefits both companies. Striking a partnership from a patent dispute is not what we witness everyday, especially not when the big guns are fighting. Both Facebook and Yahoo! have had their share of trouble this year, while Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) is shunning the after-effects of the disastrous IPO, Yahoo has been deeply troubled by falling ratings and the loss in the company’s value. The Yahoo vs Facebook lawsuit was silly and misguided in the first place due to the history of partnership between the two companies and its timing  (The suit was filed just before Facebook was set to go public, possibly in an attempt to force a big settlement) . These two have settled their disputes but the IT sphere is spangled with patent wars, it seems like everybody is suing the other for some kind of infringement and in most of the cases the patent disputes are merely an attempt to sabotage other’s business rather than a genuine call for justice.

Let’s take a walk through all the unsettled and settled patent wars that these IT giants are busy with:

1. Apple vs Motorola

This is a fair example of a lawsuit that was dismissed on the grounds that it was simply an attempt to wound Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) business rather than a genuine patent infringement. Motorola Inc. was acquired by Google in May 2012. Judge Richard Posner of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois rejected the iPhone maker’s request for an injunction to ban the sale of Motorola products using Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s patented technology.

2. Apple vs Samsung: Galaxy Suit

In this conflict Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) had accused Samsung (LON:BC94) of blatantly imitating trademark iPhone and iPad designs and infringements on at least four of its patent rights in programming of Galaxy Smartphone. This one fared well for Apple, as  District Court Judge Lucy Koh, San Jose California, ruled in favor of Apple, granting temporary injunction on the sale of Galaxy Tablet and later on Galaxy Nexus Smartphone.

It sure seems like Apple has been waging wars on many fronts and any way we look at it, Google seems to be Apple’s favorite target. In the Samsung Galaxy suit, Apple is indirectly holding Google responsible for the patent violations, as Samsung products are programmed with Google’s Android operating system.

3. Nokia vs Google: Nexus Tablet Suit

In the past week, Google was again hit by another lawsuit, this time filed by Nokia Corporation (NYSE:NOK). Nokia claimed that Google has infringed on one of its patents in the making of Nexus 7 tablet, made by ASUS company. It seems Nokia gained confidence from the decision on the Samsung Galaxy suit, but the Finnish company is likely to ask for a purchase of the patent licence rather than an injunction, as demanded by Apple.

4. Apple and lawsuits in China

Apple has been hit by miscellaneous lawsuits in China. The company has just recently settled the case against using the iPad name illegaly, filed by  Chinese electronics company Proview International Holdings Limited (HKG:0334). It is now facing another claim filed by Zhi Zhen Internet Technology that says Apple has illegally used Siri, the voice assistant. Ironically, the patent violation of ‘Siri’ is the major bone of contention in the Apple vs Samsung Galaxy suit, where Apple claimed that Android copies Siri technology that comes as a unified search feature in Galaxy tablets and phones.

5. Microsoft vs Google

This specific case dealt with a technology for text messaging used by Android devices in Germany. The court ruled that Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) patent in the area was infringed upon by Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc (NYSE:MMI), an acquisition of  Google. Microsoft could get a huge settlement out of this one.

6. Apple vs HTC in UK

In a minor development (compared to the legal battles in the US) the UK court has ruled in favor of HTC, in a suit filed by Apple. The judge regarded all four patent claims to be invalid.

The Bottom Line

It all comes down to this, how long would it take for the software patent policy to change before these IT giants flood the courts with lawsuits? It is true that some of these patent infringements spring from real and illegal violations but it is also true that the field of technology is not like hardcore scientific research. If all patent claims are entertained, courts will not have time to look at the real frauds and violations that stand to affect the industry more.  Apple Inc. has sued all the mobile companies that are supporting Google’s Android OS including, HTC, Samsung, Motorola— if the issue lies with Android, why does not Apple, once and for all, directly sues Google rather than just multiplying the lawsuits? The famous words of Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs, as accounted in his biograhy were:

I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”

This could have been just some motivational pep talk by the guru but it certainly marks a concept whereby Apple believes that Android is based on a stolen idea. Now Samsung and Google have united against Apple, do we really need these kind of ‘wars’ breaking out all over the planet. When these companies spend so much time in finding violations and then fighting in courts, the costs of products increase and more time is spent battling it out than concentrating on innovative products. Richard Posner (the judge who dismissed Apple’s claims that Motorola has infringed on its patents) has said that IT companies are more concerned with wounding their rivals than doing actual litigation. He said in an interview with Reuters, “It’s not clear that we really need patents in most industries,” he said, “You just have this proliferation of patents, It’s a problem.”

We have just have to wait and see how many more of these suits will be filed before some common sense is instilled in patent litigation.