There’s a reason why Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and every other major technology company employs armies of attorneys that specialize in patent law – infringement lawsuits have become the industry’s rule rather than the exception.
Sometimes the battles are waged between heavyweights like the ones named above, and can go on for a decade or longer. In other instances, they may involve a previously anonymous entity that’s pooled all of its resources to try to right a perceived injustice, or in the case of patent trolls, to try to cash in on another company’s hard work.
Whether they have actual merit or not, the growing amount of patent infringement lawsuits has become a troubling trend in the industry. Below is just a taste of some of the recent cases that are slowly making their way through the court system.
The retailer has the tech world buzzing with praise for its new Kindle Fire tablet, which, in today’s climate, all but guarantees a patent infringement lawsuit. It didn’t take long for Smartphone Technologies, a widely recognized patent troll, to file suit against Amazon – in fact, the papers were filed weeks before any consumers even got their hands on an actual Kindle Fire.
No stranger to patent law, Apple dishes out as many lawsuits as it receives – which are many. On the dishing out side, Apple was recently awarded a design patent on the “slide to unlock” control in use on every Android phone and tablet in existence, which is causing considerable stress for Android manufacturers worldwide. Perhaps the biggest battle of the moment also involves Apple, which sued Samsung in April 2011 for patent infringement by allegedly copying Apple’s iPhone and iPad designs – a potential disaster for holiday sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which is currently barred from stores in Europe and Australia.
On the receiving end, Nokia had Apple to thank for a 3-percent rise in shares of its stock earlier this year as a two-year patent infringement dispute between the two companies was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum said to ensure a “positive financial impact” on Nokia’s third-quarter earnings report. Nokia filed the original patent that covered the use of touchscreen technology in mobile phones more than a decade ago.
In what has become an increasingly popular trend as the number of lawsuits pile up, Facebook not only settled a patent infringement case with its accuser, but then went ahead and acquired the tiny, two-person software firm to be certain it had put the issue to rest. WhoGlue sued the social network in September 2009 for violating a patent for its “management system to control personal information as human networks and technology increasingly mesh”, according to the suit. The lawsuit was just settled this month, and then Facebook quietly bought the company for an undisclosed amount.
Another big-time lawsuit involves Google and Oracle, which has accused the search giant of infringing Oracle’s Java patents with its Android mobile operating technology. A high-profile, potential billion-dollar trial was to take place in October, but was recently postponed by a U.S. District Judge until January or February 2012.
Everybody wants a proverbial piece of Groupon these days, and small-time patent troll Mobile Commerce Framework (MCF) is looking to the courts for its shot at the creator of the online daily deals space. In its suit, which also names Yelp and, in an earlier filing, Foursquare, MCF alleges that the three bigger companies are infringing on a patent it owns by creating and distributing mobile applications that can be used to obtain information and offers from merchants based on a user’s physical location. Hard to argue that point if U.S. Patent No. 7,693,752 truly belongs to MCF. The larger question might be, Why?