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Apple-HTC big fight leads to smart phone patent war

Posted: 08 Mar 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:patent infringement  smart phone  interface  intellectual property 

For example, some users bought Google Nexus One handsets made by HTC that did not have multi-touch interfaces. However, users were later able to get Android updates online that provided the feature.

iPhone copycats
For weeks several Apple watchers including Ben Reitzes of Barclays Capital reported Apple executives were angry about how others were copying the look and feel of the iPhone. "They see everyone coming out with the same form factor and they will not sit still, but push the form factor," he said in a conference call in January.

Reitzes expects Apple to debut a new iPhone form factor and user interface as early as June. The new Apple handset is expected to use expanded voice controls and new touch-sensitive capabilities companies such as Synaptics have demonstrated.

It's ironic Apple is incensed about imitators, given it got started copying the look and feel of the Xerox PARC personal computer. Nevertheless, it's true the electronics industry lives on cycle of competitors quickly imitating successful products, followed by patent infringement suits from the companies whose products are being imitated.

The cell phone world is already enmeshed in a wide range of patent countersuits. The New York Times recently posted a chart showing some of them.

"Wireless technology has always been very active in terms of licensing and the assertion of patent rights," said Mclean of TechInsights. "Qualcomm's aggressive licensing programme resulted in some of these disputes, and other disputes arise when a new player impacts the market position of the incumbents as we see with Apple in the wireless space," he added.

Clearly the latest smart phones from every major cell phone maker are imitating the Apple iPhone's form factor, user interface and its focus on functions such as Web browsing and mobile applications.

Poor imitations of the iPhone emerged in China within weeks of the release of the first iPhone in 2007. Today a much broader and more mature set of imitations is available from all the top tier providers.

Apple hired Intel's top lawyer as its general counsel in September, perhaps signalling a shift in its legal strategy. Whether Apple can put a chill on the imitations or set a new standard remains to be seen.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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