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8/30/2011
11:50 PM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Who Are The Real Losers In Patent Lawsuits?

While the mobile industry's patent litigation frenzy is amusing to watch, the side effects to consumers, developers, and enterprises are not so funny.

If you were to pick any one company that has significant mobile phone sales, it is highly likely that company is involved in a lawsuit with one or more of its competitors over patent infringement claims. The costs to these companies can be quite high, and if a ruling goes against one of them, it could be devastating to the business, to the point of shutting it down. At the very least, it is costing money and a distraction to management. The effects go beyond company borders though.

End users pay a price as well. A company has finite resources, and dollars spent on anything not core to the business are taking resources away from the product, be it a platform or phone hardware. That means innovation, reliability, and performance all take a hit.

For the average consumer, the effect is relatively small. But consider the software developer. The lack of innovation in the platform, bugs that go unfixed, and performance that's below par can have a significant impact on a company writing software for a mobile platform. On top of that, they run the risk of developing for a platform that could be sued out of existence or its global distribution curbed in some way.

A Dutch court recently ruled that Samsung's Galaxy smartphones running Android 2.3 cannot be sold in Europe. That will impact sales of software to some degree. You have to assume that some of those sales will go to other platforms.

The best defense for a developer is to spread yourself around and not concentrate on one platform.

Enterprises run similar risks. They are like a super consumer, buying not one, but hundreds or thousands of devices. The last thing an IT administrator wants to read in the morning RSS feed is the platform and model he has chosen to support has lost a major suit. Results could be from the mildly annoying task of updating devices to comply with the patent issue to transitioning to something else.

No matter how solid the company is, or how bulletproof you think the platform is from patent infringement issues, it makes sense for developers to invest in multiple technologies. Unless you are developing line-of-business apps, which is costly to do across multiple platforms, most smartphones today can connect to the email server and share documents. That is really what most corporate users engage in anyway. That, and Angry Birds, which is also available on most platforms.

Are any of the companies you deal with under fire right now? Fierce Wireless has a great graphic, provided by Verizon, to show how the lawsuit market looks today.

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