Patents are all the rage right now. More precisely, applying for, purchasing and suing the nearest competitor over patents is causing a craze in the mobile business environment. Did Google ever actually want the Nortel patents? Or did they just bet crazy sums (like Pi, the distance from the sun, etc.) because they knew they were going to acquire Motorola and its patent portfolio anyway? Next on line are the InterDigital patents, which are supposedly more in-depth and numerous than the Nortel or Novell patents. Some say we are in serious need of patent reform because the current ecosystem has become anti-innovation and toxic.
Thomson Reuters came out with a great chart yesterday that shows the current legal battleground for mobile patents. It is interesting to note who is getting sued and who is doing the suing. For instance, as much legal hot water that Google has been in, they are technically only being sued by Oracle over Java in the mobile realm. Microsoft has multiple suits going against Barnes & Noble, Foxconn (Apple’s primary factory where iOS devices are made), Motorola and Inventec. Yet, Apple takes the crown. It is being sued, is suing, or has settled suits with five different corporations.
Apple is being sued by Kodak and has settled a suit and countersuit with Nokia. Yet, Apple is in a suit and countersuit situation with most of the major Android OEMs (except, oddly, LG) – HTC, Samsung and Motorola. Samsung is having a devil of a time trying to keep its Galaxy Tab on store shelves across the world, with injunctions being filed in Australia and in the European Union, specifically by Germany and the Netherlands, both of whom want to keep all Galaxy devices off the shelves.
Microsoft is licensing patents to both HTC and Amazon (it worth noting that the Amazon vs. Apple legal battles do not involve actual patents and hence are not on this chart). The only entity on this list that appears to have escaped the patent wars is Qualcomm, which has already settled a suit and countersuit with Nokia. Qualcomm is a dark horse in this ecosystem because their chips power millions of devices and its owns (or owned) thousands of patents as well as a chunk of the wireless spectrum. They are, as they say, the straw that stirs the drink.
Who is missing off this list? Intel probably has some legal issues over patents, but not related to mobile. IBM and Cisco surely fall in here somewhere.
Take a look at the chart below. Outside of the nature of patents as cutting edge technology and the billions of dollars at stake, this is not exactly ReadWriteWeb normal material. Yet, it is beneficial to know the ecosystem, as there are deep currents running through the mobile environment. We will periodically link back to this chart as a basis of patent litigation discussion going forward.