Apple presses legal war over Android

Nov 09, 2011 By David Sarno

Steve Jobs' legacy at Apple Inc. goes well beyond cool gadgets, a thriving retail chain and a music empire.

He also launched the company's all-out legal war on Inc.

In the last months of Jobs' life, unleashed a patent-suit blitzkrieg on its rival, filing 10 lawsuits in six countries that accuse the Internet search giant of stealing its smartphone and technology.

The campaign is rooted in Jobs' belief that Google and mobile device manufacturers that use its Android software copied key design and technology features from Apple's iPhone and iPad.

"I'm willing to go to thermonuclear war on this," Jobs told author for his recently released biography. "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product."

He then vowed to battle Google until "my last dying breath."

Google and manufacturers using Android are vigorously contesting Apple's claims, which could take years to play out in court. But one thing is certain: There is a lot at stake for the company Jobs built. If it is unable to protect the iPhone's distinctive look and feel, lower-cost competitors imitating its technology could threaten the future of its most profitable products, analysts say.

"Unless they can keep Android at bay, they cannot sustain their incredibly high margins," said Florian Mueller, a patent specialist who has been closely following the disputes. "They'll have to compete with much lower-priced devices with essentially the same features coming out of China and other places."

Alternatively, victories by Apple would enable it to extract hefty ransoms from any phone maker that uses Apple-like technology, or even force its rivals to water down or remove popular features from their smartphones, including screens that respond to multiple finger touches, the graphical display of text messages, and the way users send email and browse the Internet.

That type of technological rollback, analysts and patent attorneys say, could demolish much of Google's recent success in the $160 billion smartphone market, and gain Apple an unparalleled advantage in the industry. The market is growing rapidly as many consumers dump simpler cellphones for the more powerful and versatile smartphones.

"Some of the revelations from the Jobs biography suggest that this is almost a religious war," said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein Co. The question is whether Apple's battle is based on a rigorous legal analysis of company's patent holdings or part of a personal vendetta by the company's late co-founder, he said.

Apple's aggressive legal attack comes as it is losing ground to its rivals in the smartphone industry. Samsung Corp., whose devices run Google's Android software, dethroned Apple in the most recent quarter to become the world's largest vendor of smartphones, accounting for nearly a quarter of handsets sold last quarter, compared with about 1 in 7 for Apple, according to data from Britain-based Strategy Analytics.

Apple has hired some of the nation's top patent lawyers, including William F. Lee of WilmerHale, who helped win networking chip maker Broadcom Corp. an $891 million infringement settlement against rival Qualcomm Inc., and Harold McElhinny of Morrison & Foerster, who led Pioneer Corp. to a $59 million judgment against Samsung.

In recent weeks, Apple has been successful in temporarily banning sales of Android-powered tablets in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. The company is now involved in lawsuits covering dozens of patents, some of which date to the technology created for 1990s-era personal computers designed a decade before smartphones were invented.

But what may look like a shotgun approach may actually be a carefully crafted battle plan. Apple is using its initial round of lawsuits to see which of its many patent claims can survive intense legal scrutiny, analysts said. The ones that are successful will become the spearhead of Apple's litigation strategy.

"Once they've found the battle-tested patents that can survive challenges," Mueller said, "they're going to assemble all of them, put the winning team together and enforce them against everyone."

Although Apple's patent war stretches around the globe, the heaviest assault is in the U.S. The company is currently locking horns with Samsung in separate federal lawsuits in Washington, Delaware and Northern California, where Apple's attorneys have demanded court orders preventing Samsung from selling its smartphones and tablets in the U.S.

"This kind of blatant copying is wrong," Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet said in a statement. "We need to protect Apple's intellectual property when companies steal our ideas."

Google has called the patent attacks "bogus," but in August it made a major move to defend itself, announcing the largest acquisition in its 13-year history by paying $12.5 billion in cash for Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc., one of the leading Android manufacturers and the holder of 17,000 technology patents that Google could use as ammunition to fend off the lawsuits.

Google allies Samsung and HTC Corp., two major device makers, are also striking back against Apple, filing countersuits that ask courts around the world to ban Apple's iPhone and iPad devices. Each patent case can cost upward of $8 million, according to attorneys and analysts said.

So far, Samsung has had mixed results with its legal fusillade against Apple, with courts in Italy and the Netherlands initially denying its motions to bar sales of Apple's recently released iPhone 4S.

Samsung has denied that its phones infringe Apple's patents, and has instead accused Apple of illicitly using Samsung communications technology in multiple , iPod and iPad models. The company said it has spent tens of billions developing its own digital technology in recent years, and has amassed nearly 30,000 patents in the U.S. alone.

Apple "continues to violate our intellectual property rights by selling these products," Kim Titus, director of public relations for Samsung Telecommunications America, said in a statement. "The courts will find Apple has indeed been free-riding on our technology."

But many of the technologies that these patents protect are so abstruse or vague that companies may end up running afoul of the law without even knowing it, said Bijal V. Vakil, a partner at law firm White & Case in Palo Alto, Calif.

"It's become a virtually unmanageable task to go and see if you have the freedom to operate," he said. "Procedurally it would be impossible to check all of (the valid patents) - even large companies can't afford to do that."

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User comments : 12

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Kingsix
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 09, 2011
Jobs started this process of building what I think will turn out to be a Maginot line of legal action. In the long run it is bound to fail, especially now that in terms of handset styling Apple is the one who will be copying if they go anywhere near the likes of the immensely popular Galaxy S2, Galaxy Nexus, the future S3, not to mention the RAZR, the HTC Rezound etc.
Only time will tell but I guess it will give them some breathing room, maybe a few months.
kaasinees
3.5 / 5 (8) Nov 09, 2011
Apple stole stuff from android interface.
Apple is a joke with a god complex, a cult.
Its only time before the bubble bursts.
epsi00
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 09, 2011
Apple did not invent the tablet computer. So who stole from whom? The reality is that they all steal from each other or no one really steals. Sure, I am not the first one who wrote " who stole from whom" but I am sure I will not be sued for patent infringement. I just hope that Apple loses the battle because their commodity is always overpriced.
PieRSquare
5 / 5 (8) Nov 09, 2011
Everyone will buy a pile of patents and keep each other at bay with the threat of mutually assured destruction. Don't expect to see much of a a result other than a golden age for patent lawyers. IP as it is currently is a joke and the patent system needs to be completely revamped. If we'd had this type of patent environment when the Lisa and Mac came out Xerox would have squashed Apple like a bug since the mouse and the GUI were invented at PARC. They want to stand on the shoulders of giants and then cry that people are trying to stand on their shoulders.
Also, Meuller is an unashamed Apple fan-boy who is constantly predicting the end of Android and shouldn't be treated as a legitimate source of objective analysis.
Kingsix
5 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2011
Damn right, Florian Meuller trys to pass himself off as a patent law expert. After reading some of his stuff its obvious that while he may know his stuff on patents, he has made up his mind about who is right. He also seems to be dead set against Google, a bias seemingly greater than his pro Apple bias.
The unfortunate part is that he is being touted across the media as the expert to go to about patents.
I personally would not be surprised if he is on Apples payroll for his "consulting business"
Myno
2 / 5 (4) Nov 09, 2011
Left out of all discussions I see on the relative excellence of Apple vs Android devices is the manifest elegance of the development platform offered by Apple to its app developers. Customers ultimately respond to that difference, which shows up as a substantial advantage in the elegance of the resulting apps.
chardo137
2 / 5 (3) Nov 10, 2011
I love my mac but, let's face it, Steve Jobs was a dick! So apparently are many others at apple. I am really not certain whether I love the apple OS so much or just REALLY LOVE not having to play with windows anymore.I have another very nice computer that I haven't used since I got my mac. Linux coming soon! Apply what I said about Steve Jobs to Bill Gates too (changing was to is of course).
jeffpinkham
5 / 5 (3) Nov 10, 2011
Sign of decline.
Faced with increasing competition, Apple litigate instead of continue to innovate
I cannot wait for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus
eHofmann
not rated yet Nov 10, 2011
this patent war makes me sick and tired and was soo predictable even more so when you consider, that the Retina Display that the iPhone claims as its biggest feature is/was produced by Samsung (I say was because Apple is now seeking Sharp to produce it allegedly because of some quality issues which you certainly never heard before when you only listen to the iPhones PR boohoo) nevertheless, I like some of Apples products, some I hate and hated, some I find stylish and some just dead ugly most of all I hate big glossy-black frames around the screen (an Apple branding) oh, and I hate a black keyboard on a white computer so, there we go, what's the fuss, produce a product I like and I will buy it and that is exactly where Apple gets it's cold feet from, it does not need to be an Apple product (hard times) Cheers
dutchman
5 / 5 (1) Nov 10, 2011
"He then vowed to battle Google until "my last dying breath.""

Does that mean that the battle is now over?

Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Nov 13, 2011
Oh Wow. Oh Wow. Oh Wow. I really was a prick.
Gena777
not rated yet Nov 15, 2011
In Jobs's defense, and as patent expert Gene Quinn pointed out recently, Google seems to get sued over Android for patent infringement with inordinate frequency. At first I thought that this must merely be because Android has been such a successful and popular product. But, as Quinn implied, maybe it's really due to the questionable quality of Android's underlying IP. Or perhaps it's a bit of both.
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