Are patents and lawsuits killing the mobile market?

It seems that we are constantly barraged with information on law suits wars in the world of the mobile. This week alone we have seen Apple granted a patent on unlocking a Smartphone or tablet using a touchscreen gesture and Amazon reveal that 11 companies have filed patent lawsuits against it since the start of the year.

Whilst Motorola. Nokia, HTC, Apple, Google, Research in Motion and Samsung are all involved in lawsuits relating to their mobile offerings. The list of who is suing who is extensive, the BBC recently produced a great clickable image which showed the extent of the litigation. Below is a shot of who Apple are at war with but if you click any of the other company names you can see they are all in some way at war with one another.

clickable

The litigious nature of the mobile marketplace may all stem from the 2007 launch of the iPhone when Steve Jobs set his stall out saying “We’ve been pushing the state-of-the-art in every facet of design… We’ve been innovating like crazy for the last few years on this and we’ve filed for over 200 patents for all of the inventions in iPhone. And we intend to protect them.”

At an initial glance this patent war can seem to be limited to the mobile giants waging war on one another, however this litigation is now dripping down to small development houses, there are companies out there who specifically buy up patents in order to pursue those who infringe them.

These non practising entities (NPE) or “patent trolls” make their living from patent related lawsuits and small development houses across the globe are finding themselves faced with hefty legal documents every day.

But what effect is all this litigation having on the market? Are developers becoming too frightened to develop new and innovative applications? Is the patent system which is designed to protect really hindering?

Patents were originally designed to protect creativity and to ensure those that invested in new and innovative designs could reap the rewards of those developments, this enabled companies to justify and protect investments in R&D. The addition of the NPE’s to the market has changed all that as they now look to reap the rewards from patents they have simply bought up.

The biggest issue around patents, as I see it, is the sheer volume of legal jargon involved and the wide sweeping nature of some of the patents which have been awarded in the past, these in turn lead to confusion in the market and the constant legal battles we have seen.

However, we should not forget the original purpose of the patent and the fact that all these law suits simply prove how important and valuable truly innovative design can be. Put simply if the big boys are willing to fight over every detail of a patent this simply proves their worth.

I would argue that patents are not stifling creativity, that they do indeed protect those who have innovated and that development houses should carry on in their innovation and reap the rewards from that innovation.

I would suggest that if you are a development house and are thinking of developing mobile applications now is the time to consider if it is really worth the trouble of developing native applications for each different platform. All the press coverage around issues such as the patent wars, to my mind, simply highlight just how complex and potentially dangerous such decisions can be.

Add to this the stresses of keeping up with the pace of operating system innovation and the other risks of gambling on the success of one platform over another and it seems like a very risky path to choose.

To me all these issues seem to scream out for the obvious solution of choosing a mobile application platform which is device independent and allows you to simply write your application once and deploy to any device, legacy or future.

Let’s leave the litigation to the big boys and carry on with the business of developing.

David Akka is Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK. David is a successful executive manager with a proven track record as a general manager with a strong background in sales, marketing, business development and operations. Past experience in technology and service delivery include both UK and European responsibilities.