If you are anything like me, you are probably a little behind on the most recent developments in the patent wars. Admittedly it is a lot to keep track of since the 'patent wars' represent multiple court cases that include Samsung vs Apple, HTC vs Apple, Motorola vs Apple as well as a plethora of filings and counter-claims.
The first case that was decided by a more-than-suspect jury awarded Apple $1.05 billion in damages resulting from patent infringements by the Galaxy S and several other devices.
In case you missed it, last week HTC and Apple came to a ten-year licensing agreement that will amount to around 8 bucks out of every HTC device sold going to Cupertino, CA. Last week also saw Samsung announcing that it would be charging Apple an extra 20% for the mobile processors that it currently provides to Apple. This seemed to be a response to Apple's recent aggressive litigation, but of course Samsung claimed that this tax hike was scheduled all along. Obviously these two companies won't be learning to play nice any time in the near future, and today's developments are certainly in line with that prediction.
Today it was announced that U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal will be allowing Apple and Samsung to add new devices to their respective filings. Apple's claims will now include the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S III as well as the Galaxy Note (no word on the Galaxy Note II at the moment), while Samsung is adding the iPhone 5 to its counter-suit against Apple. The additions were not disputed by Apple this time, probably because Judge Grewal recently warned Apple against opposing Samsung's motions at every turn. He certainly isn't the first judge to be frustrated by both side's constant bickering and refusal to compromise, but that doesn't mean that the end is anywhere in sight.
It's hard to ignore the fact that the only successful claim that Apple has been awarded so far was against devices that were already obsolete by the time the lawsuit was decided. And when Judge Lucy Koh issued an injunction against the Galaxy Nexus back in June a federal appeals court ruled that her actions were an abuse of her discretion. So will this constant legal tit-for-tat ever start to affect you, the average consumer?
The easy answer is probably not. Because the product cycle for most mobile devices is six months or less, by the time a court has a chance to decide if a device is in violation of a patent, that phone or tablet will have run its course and will be replaced by something new. This is unlikely to change in the near future, although at this point predicting the direction these cases will take is difficult.
On the other hand, these patent wars are already affecting all of us. The billions of dollars spent by both sides over the last couple of years are billions that could have gone to innovation and research. At the end of the day anyone who buys an iOS or Android device is paying lawyers to do paperwork and cash checks. Who knows how far this legal bickering has set the mobile industry back already?
But there is a larger issue to be considered. Besides the obvious perversion of the US patent system that this situation represents, it also reflects a deviation of the tech industry from the mandate that it was founded on. None of us have a problem with tech companies attempting to make all the money. But the forward march of technology has always been seen as a way to improve the human condition. Certainly competition in every industry is a necessity in order to drive innovation. But without cooperation between large companies in the tech industry things like the internet, cell networks and even Wi-Fi wouldn't be possible. We should all hope that the tech industry can go back to its roots in the near future, and spend its resources on innovating instead of litigating.