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Mobile Computing Giants In Patent Free-For-All

Publication Date: 
August 07, 2011
San Jose Mercury News
Brandon Bailey

Professor Mark Lemley is quoted by Brandon Bailey of the San Jose Mercury News regarding the increase in patent litigation and what most patent suits in the IT industry try to assert.

The mobile computing boom has turned into a courthouse war of the titans, as big tech companies are increasingly engaged in high-dollar legal disputes over lucrative patents for the software that makes smartphones and tablets so popular around the world.

Industry experts say they've never seen so many claims and counterclaims between major tech companies: Google (GOOG) threw a spotlight on the issue last week when it accused Apple (AAPL), Microsoft and Oracle (ORCL) of using patents as weapons in an organized campaign to "strangle" Google's popular Android software. But other competitors, such as Nokia and Apple, have also feuded over patents in court.

"This is the biggest patent battle in U.S. history," said Joshua Walker of Lex Machina, an online tracking service that has counted a steady increase in disputes involving wireless phones and mobile computing. "There's no precedent for this."


So far this year, about 270 U.S. lawsuits have been filed over patents relating to mobile technology, out of 1,900 suits involving patents of all kinds, according to Lex Machina's Walker.

What is particularly unusual is that so many large tech companies are butting heads, he added. While big semiconductor companies and PC-makers have clashed over patents in the past, Walker said the bulk of disputes traditionally involve solo inventors, startups or patent-holding companies, sometimes known as "patent trolls," whose main business involves buying patents and licensing them to others.

"This is the largest conflagration of patent litigation between competitors that we've seen in a long time," agreed Stanford law professor Mark Lemley, an expert on intellectual property disputes.


"Most patent suits in the IT industry aren't about 'You stole this from me,' " Lemley said. "It's about: 'I got there first and I staked out the claim and so I'm the only one who can do this.' " Lemley, whose law firm has advised Google on some intellectual property issues, said he was not speaking for Google.