Is the mobile patents bubble about to burst?

20 Aug 2011

Claims by Microsoft that Google’s Android mobile operating system infringe its patents will be tested by the International Trade Commission on Monday. It is the latest development in a seemingly never-ending series of cases that proves how dependent the tech world is on patents and how entire fortunes depend on the mobile computing revolution.

Microsoft contends that device makers running the Android OS infringe its patents. So far in excess of 300 different Android smartphones are in the market and the OS is achieving in excess of 500,000 device activations a day worldwide.

A year ago Microsoft filed a claim alleging Motorola’s DROID smartphone infringes nine patents. These relate to synching email, calendar and contacts as well as notifying applications about changes in signal strength and battery power.

Microsoft is seeking to block shipments of Motorola devices before they reach US territory.

The move comes less than a week after it emerged Google revealed it plans to acquire Motorola Mobility for US$12.5bn.

The growing patent bubble

The action is the latest saga in a growing ‘patent bubble’ that has seen manfuacturers and software makers sue and countersue one another.

Apple successfully sued HTC over claims that its handsets infringe iPhone patents.

It emerged yesterday that Apple is seeking a Europe-wide ban of all Samsung Galaxy devices.

Apple filed a case against Samsung in the Netherlands seeking the ban of all Galaxy smartphones and tablets across Europe.

The case alleges that Samsung copied the iPad’s design, as well as three functional patents, such as mobile photo management, touch events and the “swipe to unlock” patent.

Its injunction, which is in regards to design and patent infringement, covers the entire Samsung Galaxy series, such as the Galaxy Ace, the Galaxy S, the Galaxy S II, the first Galaxy Tab and the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Other Galaxy devices covered as a footnote included the Gio, Nexus S, 551, Europa, Apollo and Mini.

I was once told the entire tech industry is built on patents. The concern now is what all this legal activity means for innovation and of course what it means for young innovators and start-ups working on the next big thing.

As far as I can tell the true victors here will be the lawyers and the tech giants successful in defending their products.

Something has to give.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years