The reason is simple: Without multitouch capability in their devices, mobile vendors "won't be competitive against iPhone, in particular," says Yankee Group's Howe.
One reason they're willing to risk possible suits from Apple is a belief they likely have mobile patents that Apple or others may be infringing. For example, HTC ended up licensing some mobile software stack with the knowledge that they have patents in other areas Apple may be infringing on, said 451 Group's Hazelton.
It's unclear if Apple has licensed or offered to license its multitouch technology to competitors. None of the companies involved would disclose details of the suits or their mobile patent concerns. Yankee Group's Howe says that Apple has been reluctant to cross-license, which would trade with competitors the rights to use its multitouch in return for the right to use their technologies in its iPhone and iPad. Cross-licensing is a common technique to settling such disputes; for example, Apple and Microsoft settled their user interface dispute this way a decade ago.
One reason for Apple's reluctance to cross-license is that all mobile device makers are paying Nokia for use of its original GSM patents (GSM is the core cellular technology behind most 3G networks), and Apple believes if it has to pay for GSM, others must pay for multitouch, Howe says. He expects that Apple and its competitors will ultimately end up with a cross-licensing deal.
The mobile lawsuit derby The head-spinning array of lawsuits can be tough to follow, and Apple isn't alone in aggressively staking out patent turf.
Among them is one from Apple suing HTC in March for what Apple says is infringement of 20 of its patents related to the iPhone user interface and underlying architecture and hardware. HTC builds phones based on Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating systems, and it has developed the Sense UI that adds iPhone-like controls for these devices. HTC disagrees with Apple's legal actions and plans to defend itself. It's also brought the issue to the International Trade Commission.
At the time of the suit, Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote, "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."