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Google to Apple: Can You Hand Me Over Your Patent Portfolio?

Even before Apple CEO Tim Cook said that patent wars were “a pain in the ass”, he knew what was going to happen when the Google-Motorola merger was completed. Fact is that MMI & Google have already taken their gloves off. Motorola has started to exploit its standard-essential patents—e.g. the 3G/UMTS, which is likely going to affect earlier versions of the iPhone and iPad in the US, claiming that “it only takes one bullet to kill”.

Apple CEO Tm Cook at All Things Digital 10 ConferenceGoogle recently sent a letter signed by Google General Counsel Kent Walker, to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the letter they are trying to stop Apple and Microsoft’s lawsuits against the recently acquired MMI. This is not the first time that Google has used patents to it’s advantage. Google’s history reveals SEPs (Standard-essential patents) abuse is something the internet giant is already familiar with, and has used in the past. In the letter sent to the Judiciary Committee, Walker argues that:

When one firm publishes information about an otherwise proprietary standard and other firms then independently decide (whether by choice or of necessity) to make complementary investments to support that standard in their products. … Because proprietary or de facto standards can have just as important effects on consumer welfare, the Committee’s concern regarding the abuse of SEPs should encompass them as well.”

This makes it seem like the company wants to make copying legal. In other words, Walker is talking about merging standard essential patents with patents that are commercially essential. In this case the first one is something that is essential for—let’s say in Apple’s case—connectivity, while the second patent is a product differentiator like the slide-to-unlock or multitouch technology. From Google’s point of view, commercially essential patents, which Apple has a very powerful portfolio of, need to be treated the same way as industry standard patents.

Apple’s reaction was prompt and very clear: a popular proprietary technology doesn’t necessary mean it has to be transformed into a standard. In other words: they are saying that it is time for Google to spend some money on innovation!

Using an iPhone to take photos, manage a home-finance spreadsheet, play video games, or run countless other applications has nothing to do with standardized protocols. Apple spent billions in research and development to create the iPhone, and third party software developers have spent billions more to develop applications that run on it. The price of an iPhone reflects the value of these nonstandardized technologies — as well as the value of the aesthetic design of the iPhone, which also reflects immense study and development by Apple, and which is entirely unrelated to standards.

From Apple’s point of view, merging the two standard would automatically mean a decrease in incentive for innovators. And Tim Cook was very clear earlier this year during the D10 conference, when he stated that Apple does not intend to be the developer for the rest of the world. Google’s intention was described by Apple’s CEO as: “the worst thing in the world that can happen to you if you are an engineer and you’ve given your life to something, is for someone to rip it off and put their name on it.”

Well, Google, it was about time to take off that mask you were wearing. The fight is on and it’s going to be a hell of a battle between you and Apple as the company has said repeatedly that it will defend its intellectual property. [Via AllThingsD]

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