Has Apple gone overboard with Android patent suits?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: August 10, 2011

Another day in the mobile realm, another patent suit.

Patent battles are commonplace in the mobile space, due to it being one of the most competitive markets in world. Companies are moving forward at breakneck pace and it's easy for them to cut corners and step on toes to get a product to market as quickly as possible. Usually when this happens, a suit is filed, a judge comes to a decision and there is some sort of settlement. The parties go their separate ways and all is well.

Unfortunately, all is not well with the world and it appears as if the current round of patent battles are never going to end. We wake up every morning to headlines detailing the daily dose of Apple playing the part of the kindergarten bully, pointing their finger and suing someone for "copying" them. As I've made very clear before, I totally support a company's or individual's right to protect their intellectual property. Patents are granted for a reason and should be used accordingly when someone encroaches on patented technology.

I completely agree with Apple's original lawsuit against Samsung. It was easy to see where they were going with complaints of the original Galaxy S device looking so much like the iPhone – which is likely why the design greatly changed before it hit US shores. Even TouchWiz has always been thought of as a fusion of the iOS and Android interfaces. The term “copying” clearly applied in the original case. And maybe it does in some of the newer cases, but there is a point where all of this becomes petty and reputations begin to suffer.

Apple didn't stop with Samsung. Much like Microsoft, who many believe is just after a stake in Android (they already earn $5 for every HTC-made Android phone sold), Apple has ventured on to target other Android partners like Motorola and HTC. Taiwanese-based HTC was found guilty of infringing on at least two Apple-owned patents. Despite Google entering the battle, “guaranteeing” that HTC would win and many throwing a red flag on “prior art” and vagueness, HTC claimed they are “open to having discussions” with Apple over the dispute. As most companies would, HTC just wants to put this behind them and move on. Apple, on the other hand, is relentless and has filed yet another complaint with the ITC, alleging HTC has violated five more patents.

Just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, Apple has also filed a suit against Samsung in all of the countries in the European Union, Netherlands and Australia, claiming the design of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 infringes on the design on the iPad (presumably the iPad 2). (My guess is, they're furious that they lost the title for thinnest tablet in a few short months.) Apple was awarded an injunction and the sales of Samsung's Galaxy Tab are to be halted until they are granted approval of the court. Oh, and there's more. They are also suing Motorola over the XOOM in Europe, also claiming it, too, infringes on the design of the iPad.

Google has spoken on the issue, calling Microsoft's and Apple's assaults "a hostile, organized campaign against Android" that is "waged through bogus patents." Apple is throwing its legal weight around and misusing granted patents. What's worse is these judges are letting it happen. Like I said before, I support a company protecting its intellectual property, but just because a product has the same general shape and size as yours, hardly means they're copying your design. Face it, the heavy, thick XOOM and thinner, lighter Tab 10.1 hardly look anything like an iPad. (Unfortunately, I still get asked all the time if my tablet is an iPad, regardless of which one I'm using and how unlike the iPad they actually are.) Protecting IP is one thing, being anti-competition another.

What I can't seem to wrap my head around is why Apple is actively trying to stifle all of their tablet competition when they current hold nearly 70 percent of the market. That is monopolistic and anti-competitive practice. Earlier this month, Needham analyst Charlie Wolf claimed that the iPad would retain up to 60 percent of the tablet market until 2020. Normally, I would call bogus on this claim as predicting anything in the mobile market is far-fetched to begin with. But if injunctions and patent suit decisions like these keep getting awarded to Apple, maybe they can hold off competition for the "better part of the next decade," even if they will need a Band-Aid or two for their reputation.

What do you have to say about these never-ending patent suits? Should Apple lighten up and channel more time and energy to fighting the competition with innovation instead of "bogus" patents? Is there anything about the design of the XOOM or Galaxy Tab 10.1 you can see that remotely resembles the iPad?

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