Spangenberg: ‘Apple vs HTC suit is really about Google’

26 May 2010

Patent investor Erich Spangenberg, one of the most feared men in Silicon Valley and the automotive industry globally, told that he believes the current lawsuit between Apple and HTC is in reality a case about Google and Android.

Spangenberg was in Dublin last week and is preparing to do due diligence on the work of an Irish PhD graduate whose intellectual property (IP) he may invest in.

The reason why Spangenberg is feared in Silicon Valley is because of the number of patent suits he and his wife Audrey through various companies such as TechDev, Orion and Gemini have filed against hundreds of companies, including Google, Cisco, HP, Daimler-Chrysler, Mazda and Hyundai.

It is estimated that the Dallas-based Spangenbergs have scored more than US$72m in such suits since 2007. It is also estimated he owns 65 patents.

‘Patent troll’

While Spangenberg’s work earns him the label of ‘patent troll’ in the US, he prefers to be known as an investor in new technologies, ring fencing them against exploitation by rivals or copycats.

During our conversation, which takes place in plush private offices on Stephens Green, I bring up Microsoft’s lawsuit against for allegedly infringing nine of its patents. Spangenberg says he believes the case Microsoft is taking against is flawed.

“Microsoft is wrong, the inventor of the sales force automation industry was Jerry Johnston (of Clear With Computers) who invented it in the 1980s. Marc Benioff took the idea further and created The highest compliment that Benioff can be paid is that Larry Ellison’s Oracle went and created CRM on Demand.

“The irony is that Microsoft says ‘victim, victim, victim’ and claims to have developed an industry. Marc just got their first.”

Lawsuits and countersuits

Spangenberg then went on to draw a parallel between the Microsoft vs case and the suits and countersuits taking place between Apple and HTC over alleged patent breaches.

“If you were to ask me if there was one person in the world I would love to work for, that person would be Steve Jobs, the world’s best marketer. It’s really interesting to me that Apple’s going after HTC when really it is a fight about Google and Android.

“To distinguish the difference between Google and in these cases, invented an industry and are protecting that interest. Google didn’t, they don’t value IP other than their name and feel it’s OK to run across property.

“I make a huge distinction between Apple and Microsoft in these cases. Apple thought the iPhone would have a 10-year life and are disappointed other people are muscling in on the touchscreen smartphone business. I think it’s curious they’re going after HTC when really it is a fight about Google. Either way, the iPhone was a significant investment for Apple and they’re right to protect it.”

By John Kennedy

Photo: Patent investor Erich Spangenberg

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