Patent Wars: Apple, Microsoft Go After Android Phone Manufacturers

The patent wars have been going on for the past couple of years and have steadily gotten worse. At this point, almost every major technology company has had to deal with a patent lawsuit. Today, the wars started up again, as a group named the Rockstar Consortium filed a lawsuit against numerous Android phone manufacturers, including Google.

Rockstar is made up of Apple, Microsoft, Sony, and BlackBerry. The group has been active since 2011, when it purchased 4,000 Nortel patents for $4.5 billion, and since then it has been trying to use those patents to file lawsuits against companies.

Technically, the only real goal of Rockstar is to be a “patent troll,” but unlike individual companies, the group takes it to an entirely different level. While not an active company in the traditional sense, Rockstar employs a small team of 10 reverse engineers who spend their days looking at competing devices to see if any of them infringe on the Nortel patents.

If the engineers come across a phone, tablet, or other device, which may be using Nortel’s ideas, Rockstar’s legal team jumps into action and tries to settle with the manufacturer.

Many analysts have criticized this type of patent troll behavior, as it exemplifies the worst aspect of standard-essential patents. At the same time, while Android is gaining a market share and new data shows that the OS makes up 81% of the phone marketplace, Apple and Microsoft are using Rockstar to take down Android in a different way.

By taking the fight to the courts, Apple and Microsoft can compete against Android in the form of legal battles, which Apple has become particularly good at over the last few years.

One of the most interesting parts of this case is the fact that Google had attempted to purchase the Nortel patents in 2011 for $900 million, but once Rockstar put up its bid, the group was able to beat out Google. Despite winning at the auction, Rockstar claims that Google’s Android operating system directly violates some of Nortel’s patents.

In its complaint, Rockstar stated:

“Despite losing in its attempt to acquire the patents-in-suit at auction, Google has infringed and continues to infringe the patents-in-suit.”

The patents mentioned in the lawsuit apply to Google’s advertising business, which has been using technology to match users with relevant ads. The technology employed by Google goes against the patents held by Rockstar.

Apple and Microsoft have filed against Google, Samsung, HTC, and five other companies in a Texas district court. Seven Nortel patents have allegedly been infringed upon and will be looked at during the case.

Even though both Microsoft and Apple have agreements with some Android manufacturers which prevent them from engaging in lawsuits, the agreements do not apply since the lawsuit is being put forth by a completely separate entity, Rockstar.

No matter what, these legal battles only end up hurting the consumers as it becomes harder for companies to put out devices without running the risk of dealing with a lawsuit. Unless the US patent laws drastically change, it is unlikely that these lawsuits will become any less frequent.

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