Google (GOOG) has whined about Android being bullied via patent lawsuits -- "Ma, Stevie Bullmer and Steve Jobs are picking on me again!" -- but it is hardly the only direct target. Its hardware vendor partners have been contributing to the Patent Litigator Relief Fund as well and trying to figure out how to avoid more problems.
HTC just acquired cloud-company Dashwire in its ongoing efforts to strengthen its patent armament. Some of the information that's been reported is interesting. However, there is a lot more that I found in going through patent applications and grants. If HTC is successful with the material it is obtaining, it could prove to be a nasty shock to Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), and others.
Getting a protection IV
Zach Epstein at BGR picked up on an important point: Dashwire licensed a hefty patent portfolio from Intellectual Ventures for defensive use. IV has 30,000 patents that cover a number of industries, so not all will be applicable. But there could be a good many, as some of the areas the company covers include communications, computer hardware, software, IT, e-commerce, and semiconductors.
But what good does that do if Microsoft and Apple write a check out of their vast cash holdings and license it themselves? Not much, which is why you have to look at what Dashwire itself and previous HTC acquisition S3 Graphics have in their own IP.
Dashwire is only five years old, and is still light on the publicly apparent intellectual property (IP) front. So far it has only one application visible, which was filed in 2007. (There may be other applications filed within the last 18 months that haven't yet become public.) But this one has potential: Method and Apparatus for Providing Mobile Device Information through a Computing Device. Here's the critical first independent method claim (with a variation covering the device that does this):
A method comprising: receiving, by a service system, mobile device information of a mobile device; and providing, by the service system, the mobile device information to a computing device, a user of the computing device being associated with the mobile device, to facilitate the user in viewing and/or interacting with the mobile device information, the mobile device, service system, and computing device each being separate and distinct from the others.So, some system receives data from a mobile device and then makes it available to some other device, associated with the mobile device's owner so the person can see or use the data on either platform. It sure sounds like a critical activity of Apple's iCloud and the types of services that Microsoft has included in Windows Phone 7, only the date of the application is October 9, 2007. Dashwire may have had the drop on both of them.
The wording of having the user associated with the mobile device leaves plenty of room for more than one user of the second computing device (which could be mobile as well, for that matter). That means even access through the Web would likely be covered.
Mind you, there's a big difference between an application and a granted patent. Still, the Patent Office allowance rate for applications is more than 60 percent, so the odds are in HTC's favor of getting a grant on some negotiated variation of the application. There's also a corresponding EU patent application also in the works.
That brings us to the 52 patents and 4 applications that S3 Graphics already has in the U.S. They are all related to advanced graphics. That may not have been a big issue in the past in the mobile market, but great graphics and imaging have become a requirement. If you want your product to succeed, you need to look good on the screen.
I don't know that S3's patents offer something that can trip up Apple. But I wonder if HTC would have bothered buying the company if its lawyers didn't think the possibility was there. And this is an area of technology where the mobile companies may not have cleared themselves to operate without fear of attack.
HTC may be building an effective collection of patents to bring to bear in its various conflicts with Apple. No way to know yet whether they will force Apple to yield ground.
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