Hi there. It's been a while since I last wrote about the smartphone patent wars. I consider that a really, really good thing. I really don't like the patent wars. They're little more than a proxy conflict led by Apple and Microsoft to slow down the emergence of competing OEMs in what has obviously become the next big computing market. It is, however, a proxy war they are undeniably winning. Microsoft has inked royalty deals with nearly every Android OEM of note except the Google-owned Motorola (big surprise there), Apple has a nice little licensing arrangement with HTC, and a $600 million verdict against Samsung with another trial considered to be in Apple's favor to come.
Patent trolling is far from a divisive issue in the United States. Pretty much everyone but the trolls can agree that patent trolling is damaging to the economy, and generally kind of a dick move. Patent trolling, if you're not familiar with the practice, is quite simple in concept: buy patents, extort licensing fees from alleged infringers, and sue if they refuse to comply. President Obama proposed some "major" changes to US law that will supposedly reduce the effectiveness of such companies. Before we look at those, though, let's look briefly at what makes a troll tick.
(And no, Apple is not a 'patent troll.' This has basically nothing to do with Apple.
Have you heard?! Apple now says the Galaxy S III is infringing on its patents. Woe is us!
Except, this is a.) completely unsurprising, and b.) not really important in the grand scheme of things. Yesterday, Reuters reported that Apple had tacked on the Galaxy S III (including the Verizon version specifically, for whatever reason), the Note 10.1, and the original Galaxy Note to its upcoming California lawsuit against Samsung. And yes, they'll probably add the Galaxy Note II just as soon as Samsung gets around to releasing it here in the US.
But, innovation! Thermonuclear war! The Galaxy S III was designed around avoiding Apple patents, right?
According to the Wall Street Journal, Samsung isn't wasting time on keeping the eight smartphones Apple is demanding injunctions against on store shelves. And no, I'm not talking about an appeal.
Samsung is currently working with the carriers selling at least five of those phones in order to strip them of the features described in the software patents they were deemed to infringe as part of Friday's verdict in Apple v. Samsung. This includes things like scroll bounceback, tap-to-zoom, and multitouch scrolling.
The problem? It may not help at all. Apple is just as (if not more so) entitled to injunctive relief under the design patents Samsung was deemed to infringe, so these efforts may be for naught.
If you were following our meta-live coverage, you'll know that the outcome of Apple v. Samsung was basically really, really bad for Samsung. To the tune of slightly over a billion dollars. Yikes. Samsung did escape any successful allegations of infringement through its tablets, but on the smartphone front, they really did get destroyed.
Samsung was found to infringe on two major iPhone design patents on almost every device Apple accused, including the D'677 patent, which covers the front fascia of the iPhone, pictured below. They also successfully asserted that Samsung infringed the design and layout of the iPhone's homescreen, another design patent.
With Samsung and Apple's California trial scheduled for Monday, more and more information is being unearthed about the parties' respective claims. Yesterday, though, AllThingsD parsed out a few pieces of evidence from an unedited version of Apple's filing (not publicly available) that look quite bad for Samsung. I'll just quote them as they appear, because they really don't need much context:
- In February 2010, Google told Samsung that Samsung’s “P1” and “P3” tablets (Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Tab 10.1) were “too similar” to the iPad and demanded “distinguishable design vis-à-vis the iPad for the P3.”
- In 2011, Samsung’s own Product Design Group noted that it is “regrettable” that the Galaxy S “looks similar” to older iPhone models.
Update: It appears Samsung sent out the update removing universal search from international Galaxy S III's mistakenly. I'd say the point still stands for the United States, though.
On December 1, 2004, a patent was filed in the United States naming Apple as asignee (owner). Its title is "Universal interface for retrieval of information in a computer system." This patent, which you can find here, has become Apple's most effective weapon in its fight to see Android dubbed an iOS "ripoff" by courts and consumers.
And effective it has been - Samsung just removed the local search feature from the international version of the Galaxy S III, having already removed it from the US versions on AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon.
Over at FOSSPatents, Florien Mueller has gotten his hands on a copy of a filing containing Apple's damages claim against Samsung in their much-publicized California lawsuit. The contents indicate that Apple is seeking $2 billion in unjust enrichment damages (the amount Samsung has wrongly profited infringing Apple's design patents), along with $500 million in lost profits. A smaller $25 million royalty for various technical patents like tap to zoom and overscroll bounce is included, but only in regard to a few products.
The design patents are the damages headliners because only design patents offer the option of seeking unjust enrichment as a remedy (there are various and good reasons for this).
According to a header from a sealed document unearthed by FOSSPatents, Google has requested to intervene in an ITC patent lawsuit between HTC and Nokia as co-defendant to the Taiwanese smartphone-maker. This is the first time Google has ever filed as an intervening 3rd-party in a patent lawsuit between one of its hardware partners and a competitor, so it may be the sign of a shift in strategy for the company.
There's also the fact that Google has requested an antitrust investigation against Nokia in the EU, so maybe Google is just piling on the Finnish firm to makes its stance even more clear.