This set of infographics from our good friends at Verizon is a pretty sobering look at both the patent minefield that currently exists in the smartphone world, as well as many of the higher profile lawsuits that are currently taking place.
As a side note, I'm not sure why Verizon is kicking the sleeping dog here. Not one of these patent holders would dare sue the largest wireless carrier in the United States for patent infringement, but by selling hardware that is patent encumbered, VZW certainly could be sued.
It's a pretty sad fact, but every company that is involved in the smartphone industry is suing or being sued, or has already entered into patent licensing agreements for patents from legitimate companies and patent trolls alike. Of all the patent trolls in the world, the most disappointing, but least surprising is Microsoft. Have a look at the patent lawsuit circle jerk as Verizon has laid it out:
Sascha Segan at PC World had this to say after a conversation with International Trade Commission Judge Theodore Essex and Ray Chen of the US Patent and Trademark Office:
"the prospects for peace soon are bleak. The best possible outcome is mutually assured destruction, if the various smartphone players each assemble enough critical patents that they become unwilling to sue each other."
If that weren't a depressing enough statement on it's own, think about this for a minute: what's left to patent? Microsoft is licensing, under threat of lawsuit, 15 year old patents that mostly have nothing at all to do with mobile. How the hell do you assure mutual destruction against that?
The system is so bad in the United States that Apple has been given a patent on the idea of slide to unlock, never mind the fact that Apple didn't "invent" this game changing feature. And they're already using this "invention" against Samsung in Germany. New, fresh patents are still being issued for trivial, obvious features. Even worse, new patents are being issued for bullshit features where prior art plainly exists.
Take a look at the second infographic from VZW that details the total estimated patent hoard of some of the larger companies involved in this farce:
After seeing that, tell me how any one of these companies can assemble enough of a patent arsenal to defend themselves, let alone how a number of these companies can assemble enough patent ammo to assure a Mexican standoff in the smartphone world.
With all due respect to Mr Chen of the USPTO and to Judge Essex of the ITC, the best possible outcome to this mess is meaningful patent reform, but since that's not going to happen let's hope enough of these companies can smoke up half-assed "inventions" like slide to unlock quickly enough to make a difference.
Source: PC World | Images: Verizon