We've all been watching the smartphone patent wars for the past few years, covering our ears and hoping the shells would just stop falling. Unfortunately all that's happened is it has increased in frequency, to the point now where a coalition of companies has launched its stockpile of patent nukes before anyone could suggest they play tic-tac-toe. Microsoft, Apple, RIM and Sony have just launched a patent attack on Google with several thousand patents in question, that could in theory, cripple the Android platform.
This all stems from a patent buyout this group of firms – known collectively in this instance as the evil sounding Rockstar Consortium – completed back in 2011, of Canadian telecoms company Nortel. Google bid too, but didn't managed to secure the winning total, which ended up being over $4.5 billion. This secured moire than 6,000 patents for the collective, most of which relate to 4G wireless data transmission and other smartphone technologies.
It's these patents that are being used to target Google, but not only that one entity, but seven other Android handset producers: Asustek, HTC, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung and ZTE. Of course even with the might that Rockstar Consortium has, it's still allying itself against a formidable team of companies, meaning this isn't going to play out quickly.
And we know who's going to benefit the most here, don't we?
“This is better than the second coming of Christ,” said every lawyer ever. Source: Northwest
The two law firms being used for the mega-suit, are McKool Smith and Susman and Godfrey, the former of the two having particular experience with generating massive payouts from tech-firms over patents. In the past few years, it's managed to pull almost three quarters of a billion from – ironically – companies like Microsoft and Apple.
There's six patents being cited in the suit against Google, some of which potentially go after the company's lifeblood – it's search engine, while there's seven being used against its partner Android makers, which cover the usual vaguely termed “inventions,” from the 90s, including a “navigation tool for a graphical user interface.” It's not one or two handsets that the Rockstar Consortium is going after either, but everything. If it wins, it would affect the sales of almost every single Android device, mobile and tablet.
If there was ever any question that patent trolling has become one of the tech-world's most prolific and unfortunately, profitable ventures, Ars recently popped by the Rockstar Consortium's HQ to see what it has going on. There it found 10 separate reverse engineering labs (like we're in a Transformers movie) that are specifically there to open up tech from rival firms and find any potential for patent infringement lawsuits.
But why not just sue Google as Microsoft, as Apple, as Sony? Of course there's method to the madness. By doing the patent trolling through a separate corporation (Rockstar Consortium) that doesn't have any operating business, they avoids the potential for a countersuit, a common strategy in these sorts of cases. It might sound obvious, but Rockstar employees are fully committed to the idea that they work for a company separate from its parent owners.
Of course as heavy as this collective's opening salvo has been , don't expect Google to just weather the storm. It too has an impressive patent catalogue, especially after spending $12.5 billion on Motorola last year. Expect return fire to be mutually destructive, leaving the real losers, the consumers, cowering in their nuclear shadow.
KitGuru Says: This one is going to be a rough one. Perhaps though, finally, this legalised corporate espionage will finally get legislators to see that patent and copyright law needs reforming.