Previously, back in the early days when Nic’s CompBlog still existed, I had posted a series with this title, relating to copyright; however, I decided to expand the definition of that title to not only include petty copyright cases, but also big boy patents, which opened me up to write a whole lot on very juicy subjects.
Patents, patents, patents.
Recently, especially over this summer, things have been heating up in the patent world, starting with the Nortel Patent auction. For those of you who are either tech illiterate, don’t like the news or just don’t care about tech (even though you are reading this tech orientated blog…), let me indulge you in the joys of patents.
Nortel have a big patent portfolio of about 6,000. There was an auction for them, as I am sure the observant readers will have picked up by now. Google started off, placing a $900m bid. Now, that’s pretty high for a first bid, actually, that’s pretty high, period. The competitors (Apple, RIM, Microsoft, Sony, etc.), who all hate the success of android, saw that Google was serious. As Google is a new company, they don’t own that many patents when compared to Apple and Microsoft. Patents are vital to defend products, as I will show later, so it was vital for Google to get these patents, especially as they include 4G LTE technologies.
So, after a while, Apple joined up with some other minor companies and the bidding was reaching ridiculously high numbers, like $2b ridiculous. Come to think of it, the numbers were ridiculous, regardless of the letter preceding them! Google were starting to bet $πb ($3.141b) and other mathematical constants! This was either a genius move or a death sentence. They were confusing people as to why they were bidding these numbers, which might have played to their advantage, but at the same time, they were also portraying themselves as not caring. It was then when things really got interesting.
Apple & Co. started teaming up with RIM (the blackberry makers), Sony and Microsoft.
What? Did you just say Apple and Microsoft?
Yes, indeed I did.
Eventually, the bidding stopped at $4.5b, placed by the Apple & Co. consortium (that’s not the real name, I just like typing ampersands). Apple contributed the most to this number so they could get “Outright ownership of the 4G LTE Patents”. The other insignificant patents were probably distributed like pieces of meat to savage wolves, but that’s the analogy of an adolescent who hates Sony and is allergic to Microsoft.
But why did those archenemies huddle together? Well, ultimately, they hate Google. Don’t forget, Google makes the fastest growing mobile OS in the world. Blackberry is going down the toilet, Microsoft dropped the ball and, lets face it, Symbian was doomed from the start. The only real competitor is iOS, and without the hundreds of manufacturers at many different price points, it will always be second to Android.
The solution to the problem? Bombard Android manufacturers with patent lawsuits. Google now has to step in and help, but without many thousands of patents to counter sue with, how can they possibly defend Android? You know, Microsoft make more money from android licensing fees than they do with Windows Phone? Think about that!
After that auction, the Department of Justice stepped in and checked the results to see if the outcome was in anyway anticompetitive. I believe it’s still pending approval, but it’s pretty certain that Google will not see any of those patents in large numbers.
Good, Now that we have the formalities out the way, lets get on to the reason why I wanted to write this post. Look at this infograph of the lawsuits going on:
Now, as you can see, Apple is in the middle of the whole thing, and that’s because they have a lot to protect, especially with pesky Samsung copying all their designs. I see this, however, as MAD: yes, it is mad in the first place, but MAD stands for Mutually Assured Destruction. So it is I shoot you, you shoot me. That’s one of the big factors hopefully preventing the US throwing missiles at others.
You sue me, I sue you. Great! We have established a healthy competitive market! I understand Apple’s reason to sue Samsung, but not the rest of this crap going on:
WOW! The page indicator bar at the top! Revolutionary!
They even copied the 4×4 app layout and the dock.
Do you see where I am going with this? Patents were created to provoke innovation and prohibit copying, but lately it has become a game to see who gets the most money out of them. If the patent system is not revised (somehow), we will see this happening again and again. Google bought Motorola Mobile for the patents and limited else. That’s the truth. We shall see what happens with the Novell patent auction, when 8,000+ mobile technology patents are up for grabs. Will it be a replication of the Nortel auction, or something entirely different in its own right?
The summer of patent lawsuits will soon come to an end, so brace yourselves for the harsh winter.