6MS Eye Piece 14 Oct 2011 IP Wars? Its Patently Obvious!


I was approached yesterday to take part in a live TV programme to comment on the IP Wars current raging between Apple, Google and  Microsoft in the smart phone and tablet computing market.

This was stimulated by Apple’s latest success in blocking the sale of the Samsung Glaxay Tab 10.1 in Australia.

Unfortunately I was at a client’s national one day conference and was unable to participate in the programme.  I thought I would use today’s Eye Piece to comment.

The recent acquisition of Motorola Mobility by Google for $12.5m was largely driven by the opportunity to acquire an extensive patent set.  At the moment there is a global turf war over mobile and tablet computing being waged between Apple, Google (Android) and Microsoft.  The stakes are high.  Microsoft’s early dominance of the desktop gave it a largely unrivalled position in the technology space for nearly two decades and made Bill Gates the richest man in the world.

As the technology for smart phones and tablets rapidly evolves, the company that can dominate this space stands to make similar financial gains.  Apple was an early leader with the iPhone and iPad.  Google’s response was to launch the open source operating system Android which is aimed (like iOS5 from Apple) at both the smart phone and tablet computing market and which has been widely adopted by a wide range of hardware manufacturers including Samsung.

For Google, wide acceptance of Android offers the opportunity to extend their domination of search onto these platforms.  Microsoft is still playing catch up in the mobile and tablet markets but has been quietly producing some enterprise solutions which are melding the IT and Communications space, the latest incarnation of which is Lync.  Windows 8 due out next year is expected to bring the desktop and tablet computing experience much closer together.  You can learn more about Windows 8 here.

Behind these behemoths, hardware manufacturers are choosing their platforms and producing their own take on the smart phone and tablets.  At one level this is a global battle for a whole series of national markets.  The evidence suggests that once a market leader is established, it is very hard for the number two or three in that market to claw back the lost market share.

In such circumstances, the role of patents and the protection of intellectual property is a powerful (and valuable) weapon in the armoury.  There are literally thousands of patents, the smart phones and tablets are extremely complex devices and the interpretation of patent law varies widely across the world.  The consequence is that considerable efforts are being made by all the market participants to gain advantage where they can by claiming breaches of their intellectual property against other parties, while receiving counter claims for other patent breaches from those parties.

Where will this all end up?  I believe that once this growth stage of the market shakes itself out, there will be a gradual process of cross licensing of IP for this generation of smart phones and tablets.  At the same time the same companies will continue their investment in R&D to develop new technology which they can register ready for the next round.

Oh yes, and you can expect more deals like the Motorola tie up with Google, particularly if they come with a juicy bundle of patents.

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