Another patent war: this time, it’s Google v Apple

by Dale Wright

Google’s decision to buy Motorola – and its tens of thousands of patents – may be about to pay dividends.

Two of the biggest tech companies in the world are about to go head-to-head in the big daddy of all patent claims: Google are taking on Apple.

Google is claiming that Apple’s flagship Siri software – a personal assistant that’s bundled with the iPhone 4S – is an infringement of a Motorola patent. Because it bought Motorola earlier this year, it now owns the rights to certain features which it believes Apple has ripped off.

Google also filed six other patent complaints about notifications, location services and other fairly basic components of the iOS operating system as used on various ‘iDevices’, including the new iPad.

Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility was widely thought to be a tactic to defend Android handset manufacturers against Apple’s massive wealth and enthusiasm for patent cases. There were signs of the two companies locking horns two years ago, but Google say it has now exhausted all their options for negotiation and are taking the matter to the courts.

All these patent wars between Apple and competitors throw up an interesting question: how much of a basic mobile phone, smartphone or tablet design can a company claim is “theirs”? Motorola holds so many patents because it was the first to come up with certain features, but their rivals could argue that they simply had to use the same features just to make their products usable.

The US International Trade Commission is currently looking at this exact question to determine whether some patents cover features that are ’standard’ and should be open for everyone to use in return for a modest licence fee. This could help reduce the number of patent cases. Apple and Samsung have been told to simplify their ongoing case and try to settle it out of court, but no progress has been made. They’re due to enter the courtroom tomorrow.