Finally, the “Thermonuclear war”—as declared by Steve Jobs— between Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has come to an end. They will no longer fight each other as their lawsuit has come to an end.
While both companies have committed to form a lobby that will work in patent reform, improving its current form and supposedly marrying the interests of large companies that invest in research and intellectual property. However, neither company has created or committed to a cross-licensing agreement, the symbol of the latest truce between Google and Samsung that the two Android manufacturers agreed to earlier this year. What this means for Google and Apple are uncertain, seeing that Google will retain the Motorola patents it acquired through the Motorola acquisition two years ago (while selling Motorola Mobility off to Lenovo Group, Inc.).
Unfortunately, Samsung and Apple can’t seem to call a truce in their ongoing battle against each other. Apple just won $119 million in its second lawsuit against Samsung. While Apple received far less than the $2 billion Apple wanted in this lawsuit (and the $2 billion Apple demanded in the first Apple-Samsung lawsuit), it shows just how far Apple is willing to go to “hit companies where it hurts” when it thinks it’s got a case.
With the Google/ Motorola and Apple lawsuit coming to an end, the time is ripe to take a look back at the nature of the four-year lawsuit, the technology involved in the patent disputes, and just how Google and Apple can proceed from here.
Motorola vs. Apple lawsuits, 2010
The first case between Motorola and Apple took place in Illinois’ Northern District Court in early October 2010. Motorola accused Apple of violating six of its technology patents: 1) the ‘516 patent, “Paging System Using Message Fragmentation to Redistribute Traffic,” 2) ‘712 patent, concerned with cryptographic protection of data, 3) ‘230 patent, known as a general digital speech coder patent (not specifically owned by Motorola), 4) ‘193 patent, another general patent related to radio frequency cellular telecommunication systems, 5) ‘559 patent, related to CDMA systems in carrier-specific smartphones, and 6) ‘898 patent, a document related to transmission of data and transmission block in messaging systems.
Motorola ‘516 patent: paging, messaging systems, and data fragmentation
The ‘516 patent relates to paging systems and how messages can become fragmented when data traffic is high. In other words, when you send a message to someone that’s unusually long, the messaging system tends to “fragment” or divide the message in order to make it easier to transmit to the recipient. In cases where messaging apps are flooded with traffic, half of your message can make it to the recipient, or all of your message (both parts) can become lost and may never arrive (if not arrive minutes, hours, or even days later). Motorola’s ‘516 patent was designed to help ease the transmission of fragmented data in such data traffic congestion.
Motorola claimed that Apple infringed upon its ’516 patent in iPhones 1, 3G, 3GS, 4, as well as all iPod Touch models (1-5), not to mention iPads 1 (Wi-Fi and 3G), MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, as well as iMac and Mac Mini.
Motorola ‘712 patent: cryptographic protection of data
The cryptographic ‘712 patent relates to the prevention of data extraction through unlawful means, tying information shared by way of a cellular network to a subscriber identity module (or SIM) card. The goal is to prevent hackers from eavesdropping or intercepting calls and the exchange of phone conversations and text messages by way of cellular networks.
Apple products said to violate the ‘712 patent consist of the same products that were in violation of the ‘516 patent.
Motorola ‘559 patent: CDMA systems and transmission of data
Motorola’s ‘559 patent refers to the transmission of data by way of CDMA networks. CDMA represents one type of smartphone that is used most in the United States, as opposed to a phone bearing GSM technology. CDMA is acronymic for “code division multiple access,” and it refers to multiple mobile stations that run on the same network for which each user must have a code devoted to that particular individual. CDMA phones work by having a message or data packet sent to a base station to verify the code and user in question before sending the data packet to an intended recipient. The ‘559 patent seems to be a general CDMA patent for all smartphones that run on carriers such as Sprint, Verizon, and MVNOs like Boost Mobile, Virgin Mobile, etc.
Apple’s iPhones 3G, 3GS, 4, and Apple’s iPad with 3G were said to violate the ‘559 patent.
Motorola’s ‘898 patent: countdown function during a mobile-originated transfer
The ‘898 patent seems to be nothing more than another standards-essential patent that allows the network to have advanced forewarning as to the transmission of data from a mobile station to another. Traffic congestion can block the advanced knowledge the system needs to allocate resources to other mobile stations, so the mobile station in question ends up receiving more data transmission blocks – ignorant of the fact that the transmission has already taken place.
While these are only a few descriptions of the six patents at stake in the 2010 lawsuit, it goes to show that Motorola sued Apple for what many would call standards-essential patents today. Motorola, after filing its first claim, went on to file another lawsuit against Apple in Florida’s Southern District. In November, Motorola dismissed its Illinois lawsuit against Apple, but continued to hold an infringement lawsuit with 12 of its patents (not counting the 6 patents in the Illinois lawsuit).
Apple strikes back, files six-patent lawsuit in the same month
Where there’s one thunder or two, you can always expect lightning. That’s what happened when Motorola decided to sue Apple. Apple didn’t even wait one month to sue Motorola: at the end of October 2010, Apple decided to file two lawsuits in Wisconsin’s Western District Court against Motorola with six patents of its own at the heart of the infringements: 1) Ellipse Fitting for Multi-Touch Surfaces, 2) Multipoint Touchscreen, 3) Object-Oriented System Locator System, 4) Touch Screen Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Determining Commands by Applying Heuristics, 5) Method and Apparatus for Displaying and Accessing Control and Status Information in a Computer System, and 6) Support for Custom User-Interaction Elements in a Graphical, Event-Driven Computer System.
All six of these patents were discussed in two lawsuits, case #0661 and #0662. As you can see, the patents were related to the touch screen display, human movements on the touch screen, the control bar for control and status information, as well as the inclusion of additional fonts and other features without disc installation on mobile devices. Again, Apple’s patents and Motorola’s patents seem to be standards-essential patents. If there are unique details to these patents that set the companies apart from one another, the research only tells half the story.
As if this weren’t enough, Apple also hit Motorola with another patent infringement claim at the end of October, asserting that Motorola violated three of Apple’s patents with its American mobile phones. At this point, Apple’s patent claims had risen to 9 patent infringements against Motorola, with Motorola’s 12 patent infringement claims still standing.
In March 2011, after seeking to get certain Motorola mobile phones banned in the US, Apple filed a lawsuit against Motorola, claiming that the company wasn’t honoring FRAND and that Motorola was guilty of patent misuse, breach of contract, violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, and so on. Apple claimed then that Motorola’s patent infringement lawsuits were nothing more than a company suing for standards-essential patents – which should be honored by the Free, Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory agreement (or, FRAND for short).
Between April 2011 and early 2012, Motorola and Apple filed more patent infringement lawsuits against each other, with Apple filing one in the US District Court, in Southern California, while filing others in Dusseldorf, Munich, and Mannheim, Germany. Motorola filed a lawsuit against Apple in Mannheim, Germany between March and April 2011, and was awarded for two of the three patent infringement claims it made against Apple. Germany banned sales of Apple products that were found to infringe upon the two patents in question. The same can be said for Motorola and Apple in 2013, even after Google acquired Motorola Mobility in 2012. Google, by default, now joined the fray.
Motorola and Apple drop their lawsuit, now what?
The Motorola-Apple lawsuit is over, but we’re still left in the dark as to how the two companies intend to play a role in patent reform (their claim). A number of the patents above relate to technologies that are standard for most manufacturers today. Take multitouch, for example: how many tablets do you know of (or smartphones, for that matter) that come without multitouch capabilities today? With that said, it’s time for manufacturers to put aside their differences, and stop going to court to sue over things that are standards-essential. What is a “touch screen,” if you can’t touch the screen? How many actions can you perform on a screen beside swiping, touching with a finger or two, or writing your name with a stylus across the screen, for example?
It is exciting to see these two companies drop their lawsuits, but what explains the never-ending courtroom saga between Apple and Samsung?
Apple should strike two truces instead of one
A number of tech enthusiasts and consumers are tired of the ridiculous Apple-Samsung lawsuits. When news about Apple suing Samsung due to the “bouncing scroll” feature that occurs when one reaches the end of the webpage flooded the web, many consumers said, “Who cares about a bouncy scroll feature?”
And with that, one important question arises: why take someone to court over the bounce feature at the bottom of the page? We know these little features deemed “innovation” are more of an ornamentation instead of a basic function native to all smartphones and tablets. Take away the bouncy scroll feature, and the iPad experience would still flourish. If the feature’s not enough to affect the consumer experience, it’s not enough of a patent infringement to take to court.
There’s nothing wrong with borrowing features from operating systems and no company should be sued for these things. Recent rumors point to Apple bringing split-screen multitasking into iOS 8, and if it is true then we all know that Samsung is already using it on its Galaxy Tab, TabPRO, and NotePRO tablets as well. Isn’t it right for Windows manufacturers and Samsung to sue Apple as a result? AirDrop file share, common to iOS 7, only exists in iOS because Apple borrowed it directly from Samsung’s S-Beam feature. Shouldn’t Samsung turn around and sue Apple for these things? If the company does not, it at least has the right to sue. It has the right, if nothing else.
Apple has done the same things of which it has accused and sued other companies. Take the Swiss clock icon in the iPad experience; the icon was borrowed from the symbol of a Swiss manufacturing company and thrown on iPads without giving the slightest pay to the Swiss manufacturer for doing so. Only after Apple was sued did the company turn around and pay licensing fees for the feature.
With Apple’s tenacity to sue Samsung, Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi better be on the lookout. The company just released its 7.9-inch “Mi Pad” this week, bringing with it the same 2048 x 1536 display that one finds in the iPad Mini. In fact, the “Mi Pad” mimics the “iPad Mini” (even the names sound similar) with the same-size display as Apple’s beloved mini tablet.
Hope despite Xiaomi’s new copycat tablet, Apple won’t sue the company.