Apple's move to end litigation suggests that the company may finally be ready to end its war against Android and go back to innovating.
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Late last week, Apple and Motorola announced a settlement agreement regarding the patent lawsuits between them. Today, a report from Korea suggests Apple is on track to do the same with bitter rival Samsung. Together, the change in tone from Apple over smartphone patents suggests the company is ready to move forward and focus once again on innovation.
The news from Apple and Motorola came as a surprise. Motorola accused Apple of infringing several smartphone patents back in 2010. One of the patents was considered standard essential, covering how cellphones work on 3G networks. Apple responded with a lawsuit of its own, and the cases were eventually combined and heard in Chicago's court system. In 2012, the judge overseeing the cases summarily dismissed them, claiming neither company could prove it had been harmed. That case was revived by a court of appeals just weeks before the settlement was announced on May 16.
Apple and Motorola, it appears, came to their senses and put an end to all current and pending patent litigation between them. Motorola is currently owned by Google but is in the process of being sold to Lenovo. Many saw Apple's attacks against Motorola as indirect attacks on Google's Android operating system, which the late Steve Jobs famously claimed was a "stolen product." Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The companies did say they won't sign a cross-licensing agreement, but they will work together on patent reform. Details about exactly what "patent reform" means were not provided.
Settling with Motorola was one step. It appears Apple may be preparing to take a much bigger step with Samsung.
"Samsung has recently resumed working-level discussions with Apple and the key issue is how to dismiss all lawsuits," said an unnamed source cited by The Korea Times. Apple and Samsung have lawsuits in progress or pending in more than 10 countries. The Korea Times suggests Apple and Samsung are now meeting to resolve all the lawsuits over smartphone patents out of court. This will be no easy feat. "Some more time will be needed to fix terms of details such as royalty payments in return for using patents owned by each before reaching a full agreement," said the Korea Times source.
Apple has won two victories against Samsung in the US alone, with more than $1 billion in damages awarded. The first case was decided in 2012, and the second earlier this month. Samsung is appealing both lawsuits. With two guilty verdicts against Samsung, it's hard to see how Apple will let its rival walk away from the US lawsuits without paying some damages.
FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller believes things are winding down between the two companies. "Things should come to an end during the summer," Mueller told The Korea Times. "Apple doesn't have an endgame strategy. Its agreement with Google shows that its management is looking for a face-saving exit strategy from Steve Jobs' thermonuclear ambitions that were based on a totally unrealistic assessment of the strength of Apple's patent portfolio. I believe a one-time payment from Samsung to Apple for past infringement of US design patents would be reasonable."
The lawsuits have certainly become a distraction and financial burden to all involved. With any luck, Apple and Samsung will be able to hammer out a deal that puts an end to the litigation. That will give both companies a chance to move on.
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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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