The smartphone industry is finding it difficult to differentiate products. Today, it is difficult to buy a poor smartphone for the money: the less expensive devices are not as "good" as the larger devices, but for the majority of people they are very much "good enough." Flagship devices typically share a common set of weaknesses – usually battery life and optical zoom – but are otherwise powerful, fluid devices with great screens, cameras and connectivity. Manufacturers are differentiating their products from the competition through trying to find the latest feature that will become tomorrow's must have, or through applying new software features. Sometimes, a feature that a given manufacturer includes in a device was thought of – or at least patented – elsewhere. This is when a company should license the particular technology and it's one reason why companies often fall foul of patent licensing lawsuits.
Earlier this week, Huawei sued Samsung for patent infringement. Samsung has subsequently countersued. Huawei's original lawsuit cites eleven technologies from either the mobile network or smartphone arenas. These include a means of increasing the download speed of a device and various patents relating to LTE networking. On the face of it, we might suppose that Samsung's download booster feature, which combines LTE and Wi-Fi networks in order to maximise how quickly a file downloads, is one of the culprits. Huawei cites that it has tried to come to reasonable and fair terms with Samsung but has failed to do so. But there is another suggestion as to what the underlying reason for Huawei's lawsuit against Samsung is all about: it is about flexing its technology muscles. Shortly after the original lawsuit was unveiled, a Samsung spokesperson said: "The company will thoroughly review a counter-suit and actively take appropriate action." Samsung have also said that they should also discover the real intention of Huawei.
Within the industry, sources cite that one reason for Huawei to start the case is to gain access to Samsung's core technologies via a cross-licensing deal. This would be how Huawei settles the disputes with Samsung: the Chinese network and smartphone manufacturer has already signed cross-licensing deals with Apple, Ericsson, Qualcomm, Nokia and Alcatel-Lucent. Huawei's US-based vice president for external affairs, William Plummer, alluded as such: "Our very strong preference is to resolve disputes on licensing through negotiations." Of course, negotiations usually make much more sense thatn using a court as they are cheaper and less public.
The other aspect of the lawsuit is it will raise the image of the Chinese telecommunications sector. Yes; the top five smartphone retailers changed for 2015 with the Chinese manufacturers making great progress. However, selling the devices is one thing, but designing them is another. When the announcement of Huawei filing against Samsung reached the media, many observers were surprised at this. What? The Chinese? Suing Samsung?
Huawai is gunning to become a leading manufacturer of smartphones over the world – if not already. In the last eighteen months we've seen something of a charm offensive. We've seen the new Huawei Watch, a collaboration with Google to produce the Nexus 6P smartphone, a number of successful Huawei and Honor-branded device launches, and Huawei's semiconductor division, HiSilicon, launched the new ARM Cortex-A72 powered chipset, the Kirin 950. Huawei invested some 15 percent of 2015's annual sales into research in development and applied for almost 4,000 patents. Huawei's intent is clear: sell more smartphones.