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Apple iPad, Smartphone Patents and Lawsuits

Patent infringement litigation in the mobile smartphone market continues growing at a rapid pace. In past few years, we have seen the entrance of new and exciting players in the smartphone arena, heating up competition in the marketplace.  This competition among smartphone manufacturers has spilled over into the courtroom.  Many of the major players have levied patent infringement suits against competitors, and the intensity of these patent litigation wars is increasing. For example, Motorola and RIM have ongoing patent litigation battles, Nokia sued Apple, Kodak sued Apple and RIM, Motorola and Microsoft are battling, as well as Google and Oracle. And most recently, Apple sued Samsung.

According to Apple, Samsung has been sued for allegedly copying the iPad, iPod and iPhone with its Galaxy Tab and Galaxy handsets. Apple alleges that Samsung copied Apple technologies, designs and even packaging with its Google Android-based products, according to a complaint filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Apple is seeking a jury trial in the case.

Apple in the complaint stated,

“Instead of pursuing independent product development, Samsung has chosen to slavishly copy Apple’s innovative technology, distinctive user interfaces, and elegant and distinctive product and packaging design, in violation of Apple’s valuable intellectual property rights.”

Late last year, Samsung became the first major consumer electronics maker to roll out a tablet to compete with the iPad. It is also one of the world’s largest makers of mobile phones, especially handsets that use Android.

The complaint includes 10 charges of patent infringement, two of trademark violation and two of trade dress violations, plus unjust enrichment and unfair business practices. Apple named Samsung Electronics, Samsung America and Samsung Telecommunications America as defendants. The case was filed at the district court in San Francisco but is being transferred to Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler at the court’s Oakland, California, location.

Apple wants an injunction to stop Samsung’s alleged intellectual property violations, along with actual and punitive damages, Samsung’s “wrongfully obtained profits” and funds for corrective advertising about the allegedly confusing products. Apple said Samsung continued the alleged violations despite repeated objections, leaving the company no choice but to sue.

In the complaint, Apple laid out several detailed design elements of the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad that it said Samsung copied. They include the rectangular case with rounded corners, the metallic edge and the thick, black bands that appear at the top and bottom of the iPhone and iPod Touch and all around the iPad. In addition to copying these, Samsung designed application icons for its devices that closely emulated Apple’s icons for the phone, music player, notepad, contacts and settings functions, among others. Apple said those icons violate its trademarks.

Even the boxes for Samsung’s products copied Apple, according to the complaint. For example, for the Galaxy S smartphone, Samsung uses a cleanly designed box dominated by an image of the phone, with the device cradled in the box so it appears as soon as the lid is removed, Apple said. Those packaging elements extend to the Galaxy Tab.

Popularity of Smartphones

Smartphones have changed the way we live, work, play, communicate and share information. Considering that a smartphone can combine a phone, electronic diary, computer, internet access, video and MP3 player, camera, GPS, video camera, notepad and gaming console into one compact and mobile device, it is not surprising that smartphone sales have grown more than 96% in the last 12 months. Smartphones are also changing in scope, with Apple’s iPad and its competitors bridging the gap between smartphones and computers and bringing many smartphone features (such as touch screens and location sensing applications) to mobile computing.

Patents of Smartphones

Smartphone companies are protecting their investments with a multitude of patent applications, and this has recently led to an explosion in patent litigation. Patent litigation predominates in the US market, where patent damages for a single lawsuit can exceed $1 billion.

Patents and Social Networks: The Connectivity Factor

As known to most of us, key benefit of smartphones is that they make it easier to communicate and share content with the various ‘contacts’ of a smartphone user. Together with the rise of social networking platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace, this has led to a growing awareness of the importance of social networks, and a better sense of the various direct and indirect links between members of a social network.

The idea of linkages has been exploited in the internet space, and constitutes the basis for modern search engines such as Google, which considers links between websites as part of the mathematical process they use to determine which websites are ranked highly during searching. Similar processes are also used by social networking platforms, some of which are able to predict who your ‘friends’ might be, by analysing your already nominated contacts.

These networking principles can also be applied to patents. While patents do not have ‘friends’ per se, they are connected to other patents via patent citations.

Patent Citations

The role of citations has long fascinated technology analysts, since they can be used to identify patents (or inventions) that have been cited by a large number of other patents (known as ‘forward citations’), which suggests that the earlier patent has served as a source of inspiration for a number of new developments.

There remains an open question – whether these later citations arose because the later inventor knew of the earlier invention and worked to improve on it, or whether the later invention arose entirely independently of the earlier invention (for example, because the time had come for the later invention).

At the same time, many leading technology companies carefully watch new patent publications of their competitors. Whether due to coincidental or deliberate ‘improving’ by later inventors, highly valued/valuable patents tend to have larger numbers of forward citations. For example, the US WiFi patent owned by the Australian R&D agency CSIRO, and successfully asserted in the US, has 77 forward citations in the US alone, an unusually high number of forward citations for just one patent.

For more details on patents, please feel free to contact us at rd (at) patentbusinesslawyer (dot) com.

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