High stakes fueling patent wars No clear victor as firms fight it out in court
By Hiawatha Bray Globe Staff / December 26, 2011
A patent lawsuit won last week by iPhone maker Apple Inc. represented a single victory in a global legal war, with giant corporations fighting for control of the technologies behind smartphones and computers, potentially resulting in less appealing devices or higher prices for consumers.
Technology firms like Google Inc., Samsung Corp., Microsoft Corp., and especially Apple - which is one of the most active combatants - are embroiled in about 100 patent lawsuits in at least 10 countries. The stakes are high: potential domination of the multibillion-dollar market for smartphones, tablet computers, and the software that runs them. One successful lawsuit could generate millions in patent licensing fees for the victor, or it could force a rival firm to modify the way its devices work - even removing features users treasure.
So far, no company has landed a knockout blow. But Apple, creator of the popular iPhone, has scored a number of victories over the makers of phones using Google's competing Android software. The result: a series of small, but significant limitations on the functions of Android phones.
Last Monday, the US International Trade Commission said Taiwanese phone maker HTC violated an Apple patent covering a relatively minor feature: the ability of a user to add an e-mailed phone number to his list of contacts with one touch.
The ruling applies only to phones made by HTC, but because the feature is built into many Android phones from other manufacturers, it could ultimately cause all of them to eliminate the feature.