More patents, more problems

The ongoing patent disputes between Apple and Google and its Android partners is killing innovation, according to Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

In the US, HTC is suing Apple after acquiring technology patents from Google, while Apple has been aggressively pursuing Google’s Android hardware partners with patent lawsuits. It currently has more than ten ongoing legal cases filed against Samsung alone for Android-based devices.

HTC acquired nine patents from Google, which itself took ownership of the patents less than a year ago, with four of the patents originating from its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, three from Openwave Systems and two from Palm.

The handset vendor is now filing a complaint with the United States International Trade Commission (ITC) and the US District Court of Delaware for patent infringement by Apple’s Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod product lines.

“We are taking this action against Apple to protect our intellectual property, our industry partners, and most importantly our customers that use HTC phones,” said Grace Lei, general counsel, at HTC.

And Google’s protection of its industry partners is a key factor in these ongoing patent disputes, according to Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms and Media.

“HTC’s patent portfolio is not as strong as Apple’s, but it is one of the prime partners of Google when it comes to Android, so you have to view Android as an ecosystem,” he said.

“Google’s aim is to get that ecosystem as widespread as they can, so that they can capitalise on it. Google has a business model where they are not making money from hardware but they want their software to be everywhere so that they can capitalise on that widespread presence.”

He added that Google’s acquisition of Motorola will not deter hardware partners from working with it, because it has acquired a strong patent portfolio to protect not only Motorola, but the whole Android ecosystem.

“All Android partners will, in fact, have a vested interest in welcoming Google’s acquisition of Motorola,” added Saadi.

And with Apple targeting Google’s Android partners with its own lawsuits, because they represent the strongest competitor to Apple’s mobile and portable product lines, Saadi added that these ongoing patent disputes are having a destructive impact on the tech industry.

“Initially, the goal of patenting was to protect innovation. Now, the target of patenting is to prevent innovation, because of this protectionism,” said Saadi. “That is really bad for the industry, when you see companies just buying patent rights to use them as legal battle against others – that really kills innovation.”

However, a resolution could come in the form of a bill to overhaul the operations of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, which is speeding toward a conclusion. With software now driving innovation, rather than hardware, Saadi believes the proposed bill will calm the patent problem down.

“In Europe, software players don’t traditionally patent software, they have intellectual property copyright instead. In the US, software is hugely patentable. Copyright keeps negotiations open and you can create agreements to use it. But when you patent something, you don’t give anyone a chance to even explore or experiment with that type of code,” said Saadi.

“Intellectual property copyright encourages more sharing and innovation, while patenting is just becoming a legal tool and that’s the difference between Europe and the US. It’s becoming a case that these giants are trying to monopolise innovation and giving a hard time to anyone who wants to innovate their own circle.”

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