Patent cases color mobile market, to continue in 2013

By Loek Essers, IDG News Service |  IT Management

Another relatively new player on the patent battlefield is the patent heavyweight Nokia. Last May, Nokia filed patent claims in the U.S. and Germany against HTC, Research In Motion and ViewSonic alleging these companies infringe a number of patents. Nokia, which ceded its top spot in mobile phone shipments to Samsung this year, said it was suing the companies because they do not respect Nokia's intellectual property by using its inventions without paying licensing fees.

Until then, the company had mostly stayed out of the patent wars, which have mainly been between the Android camp and Apple. Last November, it became clear that Nokia too would seek sales bans of certain products when it was revealed that it wanted to block sales of some RIM products with wireless LAN capabilities.

RIM thought it wiser to stop disputing Nokia's intellectual property and settled the patent row this Friday, when the companies announced they had entered into a new patent license agreement, ending all litigation between the vendors worldwide.

While litigation between Apple and Samsung continues, the focus of litigation in the smartphone industry could very well shift to other players, said Mark Newman, chief research officer at Informa Telecoms and Media's industry research division. It appears that relationships between the "biggest winners" in the smartphone industry are becoming better.

The major patent disputes in 2013 could very well be between second-tier smartphone vendors and the two big ones, he said.

"It will be particularly interesting to see if the more distressed handset vendors like Nokia are coming to see their patent portfolio as more strategic assets," said Newman.

Since Google bought Motorola Mobility to enhance its patent portfolio, companies like Nokia started to look at their own patents as a way to make money, he said. In 2013 there could be a tendency from the old handset makers that are less successful in the smartphone industry to start using their patent portfolio more.

China could also become a factor. "We expect to see further growth in the Chinese device sector," Newman said, adding that those vendors are likely to start exporting these phones. "It will be interesting to see if they start taking licenses," he said. If they don't, lawsuits would be a likely result, but they might be hard to win in China's home market, Newman added.

Consumers could very well pay the price for ongoing smartphone patent battles. Clearly, large patent dispute payouts add to the overall costs consumers pay in the market place for a smartphone today, Newman said. Although, for now, consumers seem to be willing to pay high prices for smartphones because they are so desirable, he added.

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