In telecom circles everyone is following the patent infringement battle between Nokia and Apple with keen interest on how it pans out. Nokia claims Apple infringed on no less than 10 of it’s patents related to wireless standards with the launch of the iPhone and no royalties or licensing fees have been paid by Apple till date. What started out as a competitive strategy battle has made it’s way to federal court and the battle has intensified having the online users everywhere support their favorite cell phone manufacturers and having their own little war on blogs and web publications. The Silicon Valley Insider ‘s Business Insider published a post titled “Lame Nokia Sues Apple Over iPhone Patent Infringement “ making their view clear in support of their home team Apple but it questions whether their stand would be down played had the tables been turned and Nokia used Apple’s Multi-Touch technologies in their line smart phones clearly taking away Apple’s innovative advantage. Calling a company “lame” for protecting or enforcing its IP may be a little over the top. After all aren’t patents a strategic advantage rewarding innovation?
The cell phone manufacturing industry has always been one driven by innovation with the companies which have been able to think out of the box and innovate being rewarded with market share. There was a time not too long ago when Motorola was the force to reckon with. Although their market share gradually diminished and they lost out to other handset makers, their intellectual property rights portfolio has long out lived and out-performed their handset sales as companies today still license many core components which were invented and patented by Motorola. Virtually every handset manufacturer has had to build their new products by licensing some components or technologies from others patents. What is not very clear and yet to come out is whether Apple missed these patents while developing and launching the iPhone or if they were aware that they were open to patent infringement claims and decided to ignore it till something came up.
In any technology intensive industry it’s not impossible to miss patents which should have been brought to attention during the research and development process or during product development and marketing. Patent research and competitive monitoring data is often managed by multiple people across departments using a multitude of databases, systems, software and vendors. IP research and analysis for new product development can get quite unwieldy without a comprehensive patent system and process for managing workflows and tracking patent sets and it isn’t all that difficult to overlook technologies and their underlying patents that could be very important to have noted. Here is an extract from the post carried by the Business Insider which can put things into perspective:
During the last two decades, Nokia has invested approximately EUR 40 billion in research and development and built one of the wireless industry’s strongest and broadest IPR portfolios, with over 10,000 patent families. Nokia is a world leader in the development of GSM technologies and its evolution to UMTS / 3G WCDMA as well as wireless LAN, which is also demonstrated by Nokia’s strong patent position in these technologies.
With 10,000 patent families to track and keep an eye on from one manufacturer such as Nokia and likewise many patent portfolios held by other manufacturers in the same space the possibility of patent infringement liabilities is ever present as are the odds of overlooking important patents which could come back at a future date in the form of lawsuits or claims.
Apple in comparison is relatively new in handset market and has already broken ground with its superb UI innovation capabilities which is evident from their iPhone product. The Multi-touch technology which has been patented is just one of those innovations and as Apple’s portfolio grows over time other handset companies will have to keep tabs on Apple’s patents and may find themselves with horns locked in a similar situation some day. While many will base their opinions on whose phone they like better or who their favorite cell phone manufacturer is, the battle is about innovation and the ability to protect IP. In sum, businesses that innovate should be rewarded for their efforts.