Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung Gear Up for the Next Round of Patent Fights

With the mobile patent wars showing no signs of slowing any time soon now, it bears looking at which companies have the key patents for the next round of cellular technology.

That’s also what the folks at Article One Partners thought, so they conducted a study, along with Thomson Reuters, to see who holds what with regard to patents on 4G LTE technology.

When it comes to the patents rated “highly essential,” the study found that Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung and LG held nearly half of the patents. When adding in the proviso of the patents also being highly novel, the study found that Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung and Ericsson collectively own 55 percent of the highly essential and most novel patents.

While things are still shifting, the results should help companies better understand where they fit when it comes to the next generation of wireless technology.

“One of the things companies can use this kind of work is for landscaping,” Article One investor and director Marshall Phelps said in an interview. If a company notices it doesn’t have much intellectual property in an area that most people see as essential, Phelps said, “that might tell you where you have holes in your portfolio.”

Of course, the real problem remains — namely that most of the major wireless companies are suing one another rather than licensing each other’s technology.

“It’s a circular firing squad,” Phelps said. “The industry is not mature enough yet to figure out how to deal with each other.”

Right now, for example, Apple is suing Samsung and HTC, Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble and Motorola, and Oracle is suing Google, to name just a few of the major legal actions gripping the industry.

Over time, though, Phelps expects that the wireless companies will figure out a way to license technology in such a way that companies can both partner and compete.

“In the high-tech world, litigation has rarely stopped anyone from competing,” said Phelps, who led intellectual property licensing at Microsoft, and at IBM before that. Phelps said that is especially true in smartphones, which necessarily must use thousands of patents worth of technology.

Phelps said he doesn’t blame companies that are struggling in the marketplace but asserting their patents.

“It’s an asset, like your building is,” he said. “If you are not using it, you should be.”

And the values of those IP buildings are skyrocketing, as evidenced by Google’s pending $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility, among other deals.

“What you see with these giant purchases are companies that don’t feel they are in a good position trying to buttress their position,” Phelps said. “Everybody knows right now IP is really critical, and if you don’t got it, you better get it.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik