We’ve reported a few times earlier this year about the various lawsuits going on between Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Nokia, HTC, Palm and Microsoft. Some are ongoing, and others have been settled privately in back scratching deals where two or more companies have agreed to pay reciprocal licensing fees to each other for conflicting smartphone patents.
Interestingly, one name that is conspicuously absent from all of these lawsuits is Google, who, as you know, makes the Android Operating System for smart-phones. However, it is worth noting that HTC is seen by many as Google’s proxy in one of these upcoming legal sparring matches, before the main event(s). And Apple (AAPL) is indeed suing HTC in a bid to ban its Android based smartphone imports to the US which Apple alleges infringe it’s patents. And, yawn, HTC is counter-suing.
On the table right now though is a continuation of the ITC suits between Nokia and Apple. Nokia is still the largest handset maker in the world, but its market dominance is coming under pressure from Apple and Google. So much so that Apple allege that Nokia is now fighting back by copying many of their ideas in order to create a competing product to the iPhone. Something which if Apple is able to convince the ITC of may enable them to ban Nokia’s imports into the US. In truth though, this is as likely as hell freezing over in.
Nokia’s perspective is that Apple has also stolen ideas from them (a proven market leader), and so should not be throwing stones from a legal position inside of a glass house. So they are in turn going after Apple to protect their own IP, and also point out that Apple actually imports its phones to the US from abroad too!
So what is this all about?
Apple’s ultimate aim is to dominate the smartphone market, and to eventually even stifle it’s direct US based competition from Google’s Android and the handsets that it runs on that are imported to the US by companies like HTC, which Apple also contests violates its US patents.
“Other companies must compete with us by inventing their own technologies, not just by stealing ours,” Bruce Sewell, Apple’s general counsel, said in a Dec. 11, 2009, statement on the Nokia case.
But then Apple’s strategy is basically the same one that Google, HTC, Microsoft and just about every other smart phone manufacturer also has. And these are all huge companies with massive resources. So something somewhere is going to give at some point. And when that happens it is quite likely that the various companies involved will simply work out some kind of patent licensing deal.
But it will get bloody first.
Why they can’t just sit down and compromise now is something that we will all have to just accept, because none of these companies are going to give an inch in what is ultimately going to have to be a mediated situation.
Of course the devil is always in the details, and Apple is intent on going to this particular courtroom gun fight with some serious muscle, and the aim of emerging on top of the scrum of warring companies with the best deal it can walk away with.
Accordingly Apple has hired lawyers who are equally impressive in their credentials as the company they are now working for. In fact a couple of the lawyers Apple now has on retainer have even made Apple pay out big bucks to other rival firms before!
Business Week report that :
Apple has hired some of the nation’s top patent lawyers as outside counsel. They include Robert Krupka of Kirkland & Ellis, who negotiated a 2005 settlement in which Apple agreed to pay $100 million to Creative Technology Ltd., maker of the Zen music player; William Lee of WilmerHale in Boston, who successfully represented Broadcom Corp. in its fight against Qualcomm; and Matt Powers of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, who successfully defended the patent on Merck & Co.’s biggest product, the $4.7 billion-a-year asthma drug Singulair.
Apple have also recently brought more in house legal muscle on board in the form of Noreen Krall, previously the chief IP counsel of Sun Systems and a staff attorney at IBM.
For those of you with long memories you may find some similarities between what is happening now in the smartphone market place and what went on a handful of decades ago in the personal computer market.
Who is most likely to emerge triumphant from this round of the smartphone wars? Have your say in the comments.