Friday, July 06, 2012

Patent Wars: You Win Some You Lose Some

It has been a busy few weeks in the patent wars with Apple and several major competitors, with both sides claiming minor to major victories over the other.

In their attempts to out right kill off its competitors in court, Apple has been busy filling patent infringement claims and fighting those claims in court. In some of those cases the tech giant has scored a few major victories winning at least temporary injunctions against infringing products. However, while those victories are major win in the short term, they might be minor in the overall scope of things. The battles Apple is losing are now becoming far more numerous than the ones it is winning and more and more judges are speaking out against their claims and the patent system as a whole.

Major Loses For Apple

One major lose Apple was recently handed came when US District Court Judge Richard A. Posner dismissed the company's case against Motorola Mobility, a Google subsidiary, in its entirety. It was Motorola who originally initiated this suit asserting that Apple had failed to pay royalties and was illegally using products licensed under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) standards patents. Apple, counter sued alleging that Motorola's smartphones and OS infringe on Apple's intellectual property.

Judge Posner spoke out against the cases and the patent system as a whole. He felt that both parties were "gaming the system" which he felt might not even be needed in the first place.

In yet another lose in a second unrelated lawsuit, Apple suffered a defeat when the U.S. International Trade Commission refused to enact a second "emergency" ban on several of HTC's smartphones -- including the One X and HTC EVO 4G LTE. Those models were recently released from a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seizure after Google updated Android to work around Apple's U.S. Patent No. 5,946,647, which claims the invention of "data tapping" -- converting phone numbers and other items to hyperlinks that bring up menus.

Apple immediately filed an appeal which has since been stricken down with the U.S. ITC writing [source], "The commission finds that Apple has not demonstrated the propriety of temporary emergency action here. The commission will not direct Customs to detain all subject HTC products because the commission does not have the information necessary to determine whether the respondents are currently violating the commission’s limited exclusion order."

In their third major lose Apple saw some of its key patents completely invalidated by the High Court in London. A UK judge ruled that HTC had not infringed four technologies that Apple had claimed as its own stating those patents never should have been granted in the first place. He said Apple's slide-to-unlock feature was an "obvious" development in the light of a similar function on an earlier Swedish handset. The other two patents related to the use of a multilingual keyboards and multi-touch.

Apple's Victories

It's not all bad new for Apple, they have scored a few victories in the past few weeks. Most notably was an all out ban of Samsung's Galaxy tablets and the older Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone (which has since been lifted [source]).

Apple sued Samsung last year, accusing the South Korean electronics maker of "slavishly" copying the iPhone and iPad, a case which it won. Samsung denies the claim and counter-sued. The case has been an ongoing battle between the two with U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruling in favor of Apple giving them an injunction against several of Samsung's key devices. Part of that ruling has since been lifted as a U.S. appeals court overruled the freeze on sales of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphones but upheld the decision to temporarily halt sales of its Galaxy 10.1 tablet computer.

More Battles To Come

Apple might be facing battles on even more fronts as two companies have recently filed lawsuits claiming they are infringing on patented technology.

Noise Free Wireless, a small Silicon Valley company is suing Apple, alleging the computer maker infringed its patent covering noise-reduction technology for cell phones.At the heart of the case is U.S. patent 7,742,790, which was filed by Noise Free in May 2007 and awarded to the company in June 2010. It covers a method for reducing or cancelling environmental noise, such as wind, from a voice transmission on a cell phone.

Noise Free Wireless alleges that Apple used their proprietary system for noise reduction to create their own patents and systems after the company had several meetings with Apple. The case is number 12-03483, filed on July 3rd.

A Shanghai-based company filed a lawsuit in China alleging that Apple has infringed on a patent involving its own personal assistant software that is similar to Siri.

The company, Shanghai Zhi Zhen Internet Technology, is the developer of software called "Xiao i Robot" that communicates through voice, and can answer users' questions while also holding simple conversations. In 2004, the company applied for a patent in China covering the technology, and was later granted it in 2006.


In this dog eat dog world it's likely that we'll continue to see more and more patent battles. Companies can't afford to not protect their intellectual property and until the patent system as a whole is fixed to not allow basic frivolous patents through we'll see more and more patents issued. One recent patent comes to mind, Apple's patenting of the "wedge" shape for a laptop. Their are numerous laptops on the market now, and several models that pre-date anything Apple released. Yet the USPTO overlooked that fact and gave Apple the patent.

It's my opinion that the patent would never be validated in court should Apple try to sue anyone. However, the fact remains the patent should never have been issued in the first place.

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