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It seems as though almost every day a new suit is filed by or against the largest cell phone makers. The Mac Observer reports that in the first week of March 2010, a patent infringement lawsuit was filed by a rather small company, SmartPhone Technologies LLC, against several large wireless companies. The suit alleges that the bigger firms violated as many as seven cell phone patents, including Bluetooth connectivity, syncing, and other technologies.

Several suits relate to new touch-screen abilities we have come to know and love with the newest generation of smart phones.  To get a better look at the confusing web of lawsuits, take a look at the New York Times graphic.

It is unfortunate to see this mess, as intellectual property is supposed to foster enhancements in our society. But now we are seeing companies trying to prevent enhancements by patenting work so no one else may pursue it.  Even worse, some companies have only profit in mind and thus seek to reap financial rewards from the lawsuits rather than from applying the patents to products or services.

As the New York Times reports, Apple recently sued HTC, potentially affecting current and future HTC Android phone owners. It seems unlikely that a court would issue an injunction against HTC or Google in part because of secondary effects such as rendering millions of cell phones useless.

But that will not stop Apple, which has sued not only in U.S. District Court in Delaware, but also with the U.S. International Trade Commission. Apple wants the commission to prohibit further imports of HTC phones that Apple claims infringe on its patents. Apple may be targeting HTC before or perhaps even instead of Google because is HTC is a smaller, more vulnerable company that cannot afford protracted litigation. HTC could be easier to take down first or, at least, settle with Apple.

With so many pending cases, the future of patents in the mobile technology and cell phone industry is murky. We can hope that suits will be settled and the companies will go back to producing technology. That is how the patents should be used: to inspire innovative technology, not limit it.


Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.