Google’s Android OS has been the target of numerous patent infringement lawsuits from other big names like Apple that see it as a threat. These lawsuits have often targeted Google partners like HTC who chose to go with Android for their devices.
Google continues to argue that these cases stifle competition, but it is doing more than just vocally protesting the attacks. Google is assembling an all star defense team of legal experts in an attempt to ensure that Android’s distribution is not harmed by the many cases lined up against them. The ultimate threat is that some of these cases, if decided against Google, could put an end to Android licensing. With the stakes being so high, it’s no surprise that Google’s website is currently listing openings for six patent related legal positions.
Google is currently hiring a patent agent, counsel, docketing clerk, paralegal, litigation counsel, and strategic patent licensing and acquisitions manager. The principal job of this last position is to evaluate potential opportunities for patent purchase or licensing, and also to negotiate deals that will add more patents to the Google portfolio. This is an important job when you consider that Google recently lost its bid for the 6,000 patents on wireless and mobile technologies in Nortel’s portfolio.
Google has less than 1,000 patents to its name, which sounds like a lot but is much less than the 3,000 plus patents granted to rival Microsoft in the last year alone. Google’s lack of a large patent portfolio is part of what makes it so vulnerable to lawsuits from other firms like Oracle, which sued Google last fall targeting its Android OS. Oracle is seeking a monetary award that amounts to billions of dollars, which could be highly damaging for Google particularly if Oracle wins the patent suit.
Indian developer Kootol Software Limited seems to be following in the footsteps of patent troll Lodsys after sending out many patent infringement notices to big name firms like Google, Microsoft and Apple. The company is charging patent infringement by Twitter developers in addition to an original patent infringement claim against Twitter that the service copied its patent pending technology for transmitting live messages via a subscription feed. Kootol chiefly suggests infringements of its patent pending application in the United States entitled US Patent Application No. 20100030734 which describes a “universal knowledge management and desktop search system.”
Some experts have speculated that Kootol’s motivations are two-fold. The company is poorly financed, so the patent trolling may be an effort to scare companies into paying fees while their patent application is still pending. Ultimately, Kootol appears to have Twitter as its ultimate target. With the Lodsys case as an excellent example of how to fend off these type of suits, it will be interesting to see how the situation develops.
The patent wars are growing ever larger in scope, with patent trolling becoming more of a global problem thanks to companies like Kootol. Kootol has patent applications pending over the disputed Twitter technology in both US and European offices. In addition to Twitter, Kootol cites Facebook and LinkedIn as also relying on its proprietary feed technology.
An interesting point is that Kootol cannot actually sue any of these alleged infringers while the patent applications are still pending. It remains to be seen whether their patent application will be granted as-is, or whether the patent offices will require some modification of its scope. There is also the possibility that the patent application could be rejected outright. Based on communication from the US Patent and Trademark Office, at least, it appears that Kootol is very close to being granted a US patent.
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The announcement that Apple has won an ITC patent case against HTC represents a significant threat to the Android OS. A judge at the ITC ruled that several models of HTC phones infringed on two Apple patents, in one of a number of proxy war patent cases against the popular Google Android OS.
The International Trade Commission is a part of the executive branch of federal government in the US, and it holds a degree of regulatory authority over patent disputes. While a judge has ruled against HTC, the ruling has yet to be upheld by the full commission. This gives HTC the chance to fight back with an appeal before the commission. There is still a reasonable chance that in the end HTC could walk away with no consequences, as the full commission has a track record of reversing some individual ITC judicial decisions when they feel it’s appropriate.
Investors were not taking any chances, though, and sold HTC shares as soon as the patent decision was announced. They are concerned that if the initial ruling is upheld, it could lead to an embargo of HTC smartphones to the US market. The ITC can’t order any monetary damages, although it can prevent a product from being imported into the United States. The stock was down 4% to a 6 month low following the decision, which could hurt HTC considerably as it deals with the uncertainty of the appeal process over the next year.
Financial difficulties at HTC could mean that they raise the cost of Android phones to recoup losses. In the worst case scenario that they lose the appeal, the company will have to pursue alternative solutions to continue operating the smartphone market using the Android OS. HTC is already paying hefty licensing fees to Microsoft and if they also have to pay fees to Apple it would raise operating costs significantly.
Ford is being sued by a small company called Eagle Harbor Holdings for patent infringement. Eagle Harbor, based in Bainbridge Island, Washington, alleges that Ford infringed on seven of its patents which relate to audio communications such as Bluetooth with the automaker uses in its cars. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tacoma, Washington last week. Eagle Harbor claims that the much-hyped Ford Sync technology is using its patented technologies, which the company began developing over a decade ago.
The company alleges that Ford had been in talks with Eagle Harbor dating back to 2002 about using its communications technologies in vehicles, but that Ford broke off the talks abruptly in 2008. The next year, Ford began using these technologies in its vehicles without authorization and when Eagle Harbor attempted to contact Ford in 2009 on the issue they didn’t receive a response from the automaker.
Ford has been very successful in remaking its image by using advanced technology in its vehicles such as the popular Sync system. This technology allows drivers to connect their smartphones and other electronic devices to their car, and it has been a big moneymaker for the company. Eagle Harbor is claiming that they own the patent on this technology along with other safety technologies which Ford has also incorporated into its vehicles. In fact, the father-and-son founders of Eagle Harbor, Dan and Joseph Preston, are experienced inventors, having developed technology that was already licensed by General Motors.
It’s unlikely that the lawsuit will result in the removal of Sync and other advanced features from Ford cars. However, if Eagle Harbor wins the case or settles with Ford they stand to receive millions in licensing fees. These patent cases have become all too common in the tech industry, but this is one of the first to cross the line into the auto industry.
Apple has lost a patent infringement lawsuit in federal court, and has been ordered to pay $8 million in damages to Personal Audio for infringement of its patents on iPod playlist technology. In particular, Personal Audio argued that Apple had violated their US patent 7,509,178 regarding “Audio Program Distribution and Playback System” and US patent 6,199,076 which deals with the “Audio Program Player Including a Dynamic Program Selection Controller”. Personal Audio had originally demanded $84 million in damages from Apple, and it’s unlikely that Apple will appeal the decision since the $8 million fee will not have much impact on the company’s financials.
However, the company may have other reasons to file an appeal given the similarities between this case and some other pending cases like the one between Lodsys and iOS developers. In that case, Lodsys is claiming that iOS developers infringed on patents for in-app purchasing technology. Apple is intervening on behalf of the developers by asserting that they are covered by a previous licensing agreement between Apple and Lodsys.
Lodsys, like Personal Audio, is a company that is set up to generate income from patent licenses. Another similarity between the two cases is that both were filed in the East Texas district court, which has developed a reputation for favoring “patent trolls.” In the Personal Audio case, the Eastern Texas District court judge found that Apple had infringed on two generic patents related to downloadable playlists on both the iPod and the iPhone.
Specifically, one of these patents was for the dynamic selection capability of an audio player, while another was for the playback system in an audio program. Apple had contended that the patents were invalid and that it wasn’t infringing on either one. Apple sold over $8 billion in iPods alone last year, which accounted for 13% of total sales.
Microsoft is busy creating license deals with companies which involve patent fees for components of Android technology. The first of these agreements was inked in 2010 when HTC agreed to pay Microsoft $5 for each Android phone it sold. That wasn’t enough for the software giant though, as it is currently trying to get Samsung to agree to $15 in fees for each smartphone it sells. This amount is approaching the fees charged by Microsoft for Windows Phone licensing.
Android open source software is available for use without a licensing fee, which makes it a competitive threat to Windows. In addition, Android was developed by Google, a major competitor of Microsoft. It’s no surprise, then, that Microsoft is attacking Android in any way possible. One approach is to sell licenses for Windows phones which guarantee a fixed cost in terms of fees, and another is to sue manufacturers using Android as an example of how risky choosing this software over Windows can be.
A case in point is Microsoft’s latest target, Samsung. The $15 per handset patent licensing fee Microsoft is demanding is the highest yet, as the company seems emboldened after signing similar agreements with Itronix and Wistron. In the case of the Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer Wistron, the royalty payments were not for Android technology but rather for their choice to use Google Chrome in their phones.
So it’s clear from these actions that Microsoft views open source software in general as a threat, with Android being the most significant target at this point. Other companies seem willing to sign the licensing agreements to avoid future litigation with Microsoft, rather than take their chances against the Redmond company’s top notch legal department. However, some are also challenging Microsoft in court over the royalty strategy, including Barnes & Noble and Motorola.
A Bermuda-based subsidiary of the Netherlands-based company Vistaprint has successfully defended itself in a patent lawsuit filed by rival ColorQuick. The case was filed by ColorQuick in a US District Court in Texas back in 2009, and a Texas jury has now ruled after a five day trial that Vistaprint was not guilty of violating a ColorQuick patent which covers computer-based technologies for document and media printing.
Vistaprint is a well-known supplier of online printing and promotional materials. They serve the small business and consumer retail marketplace, and the company said they were happy with the trial results. They said that the trial sends a message that the company will spare no expense in defending itself from wrongful allegations. They hope the outcome will ward off similar suits in the future, in an industry where patent lawsuits are a frequent occurrence.
Vistaprint is a Dutch-based company, with a Paris headquarters and a US office in Lexington, Massachusetts. The patent suit by ColorQuick had alleged that Vistaprint infringed on ColorQuick patented processing systems and methods for files, as well as data preparation methods for print jobs. The case was known as ColorQuick LLC v. Vistaprint Limited. These kinds of suits are all too common in the printing industry, where the large players seem to be constantly involved in some sort of suit or counter suit over patented technology. In addition, such litigation can involve large risks and expenses for all those involved.
Vistaprint itself has filed several lawsuits against key competitors including 123Print and Drawing Board. Other major competitors to Vistaprint include Sykes Enterprises and TeleTech Holdings. Vistaprint retains a solid reputation in the industry, with its CEO being named 2008 CEO of the Year by the Mass Technology Leadership Council. The company continues to provide low cost printed products to millions of customers in 120 countries.
A US District Court ruling on a patent infringement case against LG Electronics which was originally brought by Whirlpool has expanded the scope of the lawsuit and requested a new trial to assess further damages. LG has refused to comment on the development, but Whirlpool stated that a US District Court affirmed the decision in a 2010 trial that LG refrigerators which feature in-door ice-makers infringed on a Whirlpool patent for “In-Door-Ice” technology.
The court expanded the ruling to include some LG French door models of refrigerator which infringe on a second Whirlpool patent for enforced refrigerator cabinets. Due to this expansion in the scope of the suit, a new trial was ordered which anticipates more monetary damages to be assessed against LG. Whirlpool has filed a separate complaint with the ITC against both Samsung and LG for dumping expensive refrigerators on the domestic market.
Whirlpool is a Fortune 500 company that manufactures and markets major home appliances throughout the world. While LG is a conglomerate company that produces telecommunications products, chemicals and electronic goods.
Whirlpool is expected to benefit from the outcome of the expanded patent lawsuit against LG in several ways. The most obvious will be via increased monetary damages assessed to LG and payable to Whirlpool for the patent infringement of its French door refrigerator models. Whirlpool had won $1.8 million in payments for damages from LG in the original lawsuit, and the new damages are likely to be significantly higher.
The outcome of the original trial in 2010 led LG to modify its refrigerator designs, but Whirlpool has claimed that these new models were not changed enough and that they are still in violation of its patents. The company has filed a new patent infringement case against LG over this matter, but a trial date has yet to be set in the new lawsuit.
Samsung has dropped a patent suit against Apple that was filed in US federal court. The countersuit was filed in response to allegations by Apple that Samsung Galaxy products infringed on its iPhone and iPad designs. Samsung said that they dropped the suit in order to streamline their legal process, and that they will continue to pursue a similar countersuit against Apple which was filed in the same California court.
The two companies are engaged in a complex web of litigation stretching across five courts in five countries, from Germany to the UK, and South Korea to Japan and the US. Samsung’s decision to withdraw one of their California suits will not impact any of the litigation which is ongoing, according to the company. Apple declined to comment on the development. The Apple suit against Samsung claims that the Galaxy designs “slavishly” copy Apple products.
The move by Samsung to drop the California patent countersuit against Apple should not be interpreted as a sign of surrender, but rather a tactical move designed to consolidate and strengthen its legal position. The move will free up Samsung’s legal team to focus on more important courtroom battles with Apple worldwide. While most smartphones and tablets today follow the same basic design, it’s interesting that Apple went after Samsung products specifically in alleging patent infringement.
Samsung’s response has been to raise the stakes against Apple by adding two new patent violation claims into the legal mix, for a total of 17 patents in dispute now between the two companies. They have also filed a complaint with the ITC this week with the purpose of blocking the import of Apple products to the US. Samsung has asserted that it will continue to defend the intellectual property of its products, and that Apple has merely resorted to legal bullying because it can’t really compete with Samsung.