Who’s Suing Who
Yesterday we noted the case of a voice recognition startup called Vlingo that was sued for patent infringement and — even though exonerated — eventually had to sell itself to the very company that sued it.
The anecdote is from a long, frustrating and very important investigation by the New York Times into our very broken patent system.
Here, a visualization by the Times shows who’s suing who among the big players in the smartphone industry. If you select the image to enlarge it, you’ll see that just about everyone is suing everyone. Just follow the orange arrows as each “represents a lawsuit involving a mobile patent. In some cases, when multiple firms are plaintiffs or defendants, a single suit is represented with multiple arrows.”
Better, view the original and set aside the time to read the actual article.
It’s a highly readable and follows the how and why of current smartphone patent wars:
The number of patent lawsuits filed in United States district courts each year has almost tripled in the last two decades to 3,260 in 2010, the last year for which federal data is available. Microsoft has sued Motorola; Motorola has sued Apple and Research in Motion; Research in Motion has sued Visto, a mobile technology company; and in August, Google, through its Motorola unit, sued Apple, contending that Siri had infringed on its patents. (Google dropped the suit last week, leaving open the possibility of refiling at a later date.) All of those companies have also been sued numerous times by trolls.
And as you read, keep in mind that software patents are often “aspirational” rather than attached to a tangible product. That is, they describe broad concepts of an interface system, or a way to calculate payment, before they’ve ever been created. Another way to put it, they’re patents on ideas. In a weird analytical disconnect, Malcolm Gladwell once celebrated this practice in a New Yorker piece about a company called Intellectual Ventures.
“As a result,” the Times notes about the current smartphone wars, “some patents are so broad that they allow patent holders to claim sweeping ownership of seemingly unrelated products built by others. Often, companies are sued for violating patents they never knew existed or never dreamed might apply to their creations, at a cost shouldered by consumers in the form of higher prices and fewer choices.” — Michael
Image: Partial screenshot, Fighters in a Patent War, by the New York Times.