The battle for supremacy in the mobile space depends on good hardware, good software, good developers and good attorneys.
The fourth entry on that list perhaps doesn’t get as much attention as the other three. But it is a big deal. Indeed, there were a trio of items during the past couple of weeks that brought the lawyers into the forefront as the increasingly contentious world of mobile device patents becomes a true weapon.
The ascendency of the lawyers essentially was ensured when Google acquired Motorola Mobility. Google, of course, owns the Android operating system that drives devices from several vendors. Thus, an awkward situation was created in which a company owns the patents relied upon by vendors with whom it competes.
Google of course said all the right things in promising access to other firms. We soon shall see if Google is walking the walk as well as talking the talk. According to Bloomberg, the government has started an investigation looking at whether Google is playing fair.
The Federal Trade Commission has issued a civil investigative demand, which is similar to a subpoena, to the owner of the Android mobile operating system as it scrutinizes whether Google is improperly blocking rivals’ access to patents for key smartphone technology, one of the people said.
It’s unclear if the FTC is acting on particular information, suggesting that Google potentially is not in compliance with copyright laws or is just investigating because of the high-profile acquisition and the great potential for mischief.
Not all the patent news was bad last week for Google. In Chicago, Richard Posner, a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, ruled that Apple cannot get an injunction against Google and Motorola Mobility on issues related to smartphones according to Reuters. The story describes the back and forth between the two companies: In October of 2012, Motorola sued Apple in what the story says “was widely seen as a pre-emptive strike against an imminent Apple lawsuit.” The story notes that Apple did indeed sue that month.
Posner had dismissed most of the claims made by Motorola. That, the story notes, meant that the trial — which was slated to start in mid-June — had more of an upside for Apple. That trial has been canceled, however.
A final piece of patent news last week didn’t involve Motorola Mobility or Google. Early in the week, Apple won a preliminary injunction against Samsung blocking the sale of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the United States. The injunction was granted by Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. District Court for the North District of California, according to PCWorld.
This is another step in a patent fight between the two companies over the Galaxy Tab that began last July. It’s not the last, either: The day after the injunction, Samsung appealed the injunction award.
That’s a lot of billable hours for just a couple of weeks. A brilliant and aggressive legal team can pay as many dividends for a vendor as a brilliant and aggressive marketing department. The job of the courts, of course, is to boil through the competitive posturing to determine whether actual rights have been violated. It's a long-term strategy, however. It's also not exciting except for the lawyers and the architects designing their beach houses. But it is an element of the maturation of the segment that is just as necessary as the evolution of the technology.