No. 8 tech story of 2011: Patent wars

The legal battles over mobile technology patents intensified in 2011

This is the fourth post for "My personal, hand-selected top 11 tech stories of 2011." You can read the first three by clicking on the links at the bottom.


There were technology patent wars before this year, and there will be technology patent wars next year and beyond.

But this year it felt as if the intellectual property lawsuits came with the frequency of Internet IPOs in the late '90s.

Fueling much of the legal fire was Google's Android mobile operating system -- or, more specifically, Apple's late CEO Steve Jobs's "thermonuclear" reaction to Android. Apple has aggressively sued manufacturers of Android phones such as Samsung and HTC in the U.S. and abroad, arguing that certain software or physical features were ripoffs of Apple's mobile products.

As the year draws to a close, the technology patent battlefield has spread to nearly a dozen countries, with the number of separate lawsuits in the area of 100.

Perhaps the most notable legal action came in April, when Apple sued Samsung for "slavishly" copying features of the iPad, iPhone and iPad in its Galaxy mobile products.

Samsung quickly counter-sued in the U.S. and South Korea, Japan and Germany. Apple counter-sued in South Korea.

And on and on. It was like that all year. The truth is, patent wars generally don't have much of an impact on consumers. They're all about who gets to split the profits from product sales. The products still come out, perhaps with a feature missing here or there.

But for the software companies and manufacturers, billions of dollars are at stake, which means aggressive legal tactics and exorbitant legal costs in the fight over patents. Which is why a company like Google would buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion -- to get the more than 20,000 wireless patents that go with the deal.

Apple lost several court rulings early this month in China, Australia and Germany, but its legal wars against Samsung, Motorola, and perhaps the small Chinese firm that claims to hold the trademark to "iPad" in China, will extend well into 2012.

Unless, that is, Apple's competitors follow these helpful guidelines to avoid patent infringement.

Top 11 tech stories of 2011 links

No. 11: Netflix's public suicide art project No. 10: The cloud rises No. 9: Tales of tablet triumph, tragedy

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