TABLETS

Tech­nol­ogy law­suits have al­ready re­moved one tablet from Aussie stores and could claim more, writes

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page - Jen­nifer Dud­ley- Ni­chol­son

Wel­come to the copy-cat war.

BY all re­ports, Sam­sung’s third tablet com­puter is its best. The Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a pow­er­ful pro­ces­sor, fresh Google soft­ware and is thin­ner and lighter than its ma­jor com­peti­tor.

Although the tablet is on sale around the world, it is banned from Aus­tralian stores, held up by an in­junc­tion granted over claims it looks too sim­i­lar to the Ap­ple iPad.

The ban has made the Galaxy Tab 10.1 a tan­gi­ble vic­tim of a bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try­wide le­gal war.

Smart­phone lead­ers in­clud­ing Ap­ple, HTC, Sam­sung, Mo­torola, Nokia and RIM are su­ing and coun­ter­su­ing one an­other over patents, or ex­clu­sive rights to in­no­va­tions, in what has be­come a spaghetti junc­tion of law­suits.

LE­GAL MINE­FIELD

Keep­ing track of the smart­phone stoushes is tricky. Re­cently, HTC sought to block Ap­ple iPhone, iPad and Mac im­ports in the US over three patents, Sam­sung over­turned its tablet-selling in­junc­tion in some Euro­pean coun­tries and Sony and LG set­tled patent dis­putes against each other.

ANU Col­lege of Law se­nior lec­turer Matthew Rim­mer says it is proof the patent sys­tem is out of con­trol and cre­at­ing tech­no­log­i­cal ‘‘ grid­lock’’.

‘‘ It’s mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion if these hold­ers of patent portfolios de­cide to keep su­ing one an­other.

‘‘ It’s not like one com­pany will come out the vic­tor,’’ he says.

Rim­mer says the le­gal war be­gan after courts started ap­prov­ing patents on soft­ware in the 1980s. These ex­clu­sive li­cences were granted for 20 years at a time. Big com­pa­nies have since sought to ac­crue large portfolios of patents to charge ri­vals for their use, while some in­di­vid­ual patent hold­ers have used these li­cences to ‘‘ hold com­pa­nies to ran­som’’.

‘‘ Cre­at­ing a phone in­volves hun­dreds of func­tions and hun­dreds of patents and if some­one has just one patent they can stop the whole phone from coming out,’’ Rim­mer says.

COM­PANY V COM­PANY

The le­gal war has in­spired a spend­ing spree by smart­phone firms, with Google of­fer­ing $ US12.5 bil­lion for Mo­torola Mo­bil­ity, not for its phones but its patents. The 80-yearold com­pany that cre­ated the first mo­bile phone has more than 17,000 patents and 7500 more pend­ing ap­proval.

By com­par­i­son, Google has only 317 patents and ap­pli­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to bankers MDB Cap­i­tal Group.

The of­fer fol­lows Google’s pur­chase of more than 1000 IBM patents and after a con­sor­tium in­clud­ing Ap­ple, Mi­crosoft and RIM bought 6500 Nor­tel patents for $ US4.5 bil­lion. Google chief le­gal of­fi­cer David Drum­mond al­leges this con­sor­tium bought the patents so it could then claim a $ US15 fee on ev­ery Google An­droid smart­phone sold.

‘‘ A smart­phone might in­volve as many as 250,000 [ largely ques­tion­able] patent claims and our com­peti­tors want to im­pose a tax for these du­bi­ous patents that makes An­droid de­vices more ex­pen­sive for con­sumers,’’ he says.

‘‘ They want to make it harder for man­u­fac­tur­ers to sell An­droid de­vices.’’

Tel­syte prin­ci­pal re­searcher Foad Fadaghi says the fu­ture of the smart­phone mar­ket could hinge on these law­suits and Google’s pur­chase is an at­tempt to pro­tect its lead­ing po­si­tion.

‘‘ It’s a shame be­cause the mar­ket was about tech­nol­ogy and prod­ucts and now it’s be­com­ing about patents and lit­i­ga­tion and hav­ing a de­fen­sive po­si­tion,’’ he says.

THE FU­TURE

Chief ex­ec­u­tive Larry Page says even un­der Google’s um­brella, Mo­torola will op­er­ate as a sep­a­rate en­tity, telling an­a­lysts the com­pany would con­tinue to work with hard­ware part­ners such as HTC, Sam­sung and Sony Eric­s­son ‘‘ on an equal ba­sis’’.

But Fadaghi is more scep­ti­cal, pre­dict­ing Google’s stake­hold­ers will de­mand joint Mo­torola-Google prod­ucts to take ad­van­tage of the new as­set.

‘‘ Time will tell but one would as­sume that share­hold­ers and the mar­ket will be de­mand­ing a prod­uct from Google that more closely ri­vals its big­gest com­peti­tor [ the Ap­ple iPhone], which is more eas­ily done with a sin­gle man­u­fac­turer,’’ he says.

As for the le­gal war, Fadaghi pre­dicts more ac­qui­si­tions.

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