Apple-Samsung battle and other recent mobile market wars

Craig Cartier, Research Analyst for ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan, comments on the Apple-Samsung battle.

“Anyone following the mobile device market recently is no stranger to war of ecosystems that has taken place over recent months: the battle between the major ecosystem players—Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, and iOS, and their respective device manufacturer and developer communities. This war is being fought over many fronts: number of devices, number of developers, number of applications, application revenue, and the list goes on.

One of these fronts—that of intellectual property (IP) litigation—has been flaring up recently as parties within various ecosystem have filed a plethora suits and counter-suits against one another. Microsoft recently settled a suit with HTC over the latter’s Android devices. Paradoxically, it is believed that this resulted in Microsoft actually making more money from HTC Android devices than from their own HTC Windows phone offering!

Google, for its part, has accused industry players of engaging in a ‘hostile, organized campaign against Android’ being ‘waged through bogus patents,’ as Google SVP David Drummond posted on a recent blog. Google’s claim to innocence is plausible, if not dubious, as they have not engaged in as many high-profile suits as their competitors, which may speak more to the weakness of their patent portfolio than their good intentions.

Another classic legal battle has been between industry giants Apple and Samsung. Samsung’s Galaxy S smartphone was one of the best-selling units of 2010, the Galaxy Tab is the most prominent early competitor to Apple’s iPad tablet. It is this Galaxy line of products that Apple targeted with a lawsuit in early 2011, claiming Samsung slavishly copied Apple design elements. Samsung promptly countersued Apple on various technical and User Interface elements.

Apple drew first blood in this duel when Samsung agreed to delay sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia until a suit there is settled. Today, Apple struck again with a court in Germany issuing a preliminary injunction that Samsung must halt Galaxy Tab 10.1 distribution across the EU (apart from the Netherlands).

The extent of the practical consequences of this ruling is still unclear for a host of reasons. First, Samsung is appealing the ruling, claiming the ’order was issued without any hearing or presentation of evidence from Samsung’. Second, stores are not prevented from selling their existing stock of devices. Finally, while the injunction takes immediate effect in Germany, there is a legal process to extend it to other EU countries—Samsung may have already have the decision reversed in the time that takes.

Despite the ambiguous future of this ruling, it is clear that mobile technology companies have intensified the fight—and the funding—on the IP battleground. For a recent example, the Nortel patent portfolio auction, originally projected to sell for around $1 billion, ended up fetching a $4.5 billion bid.

Whether the recent flurry of litigation does anything to help consumers as a whole in the end remains arguable; but at the very least, one consumer group should have a bit more money to spend on electronics this fall—IP lawyers.”

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