In the latest round of a patent battle between Nvidia and Samsung, Samsung petitioned the US International Trade Commission to block the sale of Nvidia’s graphics processors in the US, Bloomberg reported on Friday.
The request, according to the ITC, would extend to both Nvidia’s graphics cards and systems on a chip, which means it could conceivably impact both Nividia’s GeForce graphics card line and its Tegra mobile processors.
The back-and-forth between the two companies began in September when Nvidia sued both Samsung and Qualcomm, alleging that the two companies infringed on some of Nvidia’s GPU-related patents. At the time, Nvidia said it requested that the ITC block Samsung Galaxy phones that contained certain chips from Qualcomm, ARM, and Imagination Technologies.
For its part, Samsung struck back against Nvidia with a patent lawsuit of its own earlier this month. In its complaint, Samsung claimed that infringed on six of its patents related to chip design and other technologies.
Why this matters: It may go without saying, but a ban on critical components such as graphics cards and processors could have a ripple effect across the tech industry, as it could affect other companies that use Nvidia’s chips in its products.
Engadget notes that “ITC complaints typically take less time to handle than lawsuits,” and that as a result, “there’s a greater chance that Nvidia and partners will have to yank their products.”
An Nvidia spokesperson told Bloomberg that it plans to lodge its own complaint with the ITC against Samsung, though, so this game of chicken is far from over.
For more than three years now, Microsoft has held to the line that it has loads of patents that are infringed by Google’s Android operating system. “Licensing is the solution,” wrote the company’s head IP honcho in 2011, explaining Microsoft’s decision to sue Barnes & Noble’s Android-powered Nook reader.
Microsoft has revealed a few of those patents since as it has unleashed litigation against Android device makers. But for the most part, they’ve remained secret. That’s led to a kind of parlor game where industry observers have speculated about what patents Microsoft might be holding over Android.
That long guessing game is now over. A list of hundreds of patents that Microsoft believes entitle it to royalties over Android phones, and perhaps smartphones in general, has been published on a Chinese language website.
The patents Microsoft plans to wield against Android describe a range of technologies. They include lots of technologies developed at Microsoft, as well as patents that Microsoft acquired by participating in the Rockstar Consortium, which spent $4.5 billion on patents that were auctioned off after the Nortel bankruptcy.
The list of patents was apparently produced as part of a Chinese government antitrust review relating to Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia. Microsoft described the results of that review in an April 8 blog post, writing that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) “concluded after its investigation that Microsoft holds approximately 200 patent families that are necessary to build an Android smartphone.”
To suggest the lists are the “conclusion” of the Chinese government is unusual phrasing. It’s unlikely anyone other than Microsoft itself would have the expertise and resources needed to sift through its thousands of patents and decide which ones they believe read on Android.
More likely, Microsoft was compelled to produce the list to appease Chinese regulators, who feared that the software giant could become more aggressive with its patents after the Nokia purchase. It seems equally likely that Microsoft wouldn’t be too thrilled about the patents being published on a public webpage. In fact, the English-language version of the MOFCOM site about the merger doesn’t have the patent lists.
Doing transparency, the hard way
While Microsoft’s blog post talks about hundreds of patent “families,” the lists published by MOFCOM make it clear that most of those “families” appear to be one-patent “households.”
The Chinese agency published two lists on a Chinese-language webpage where it laid out conditions related to the approved merger. The webpage has an English version, but it doesn’t include the patent lists. There’s a longer list [MS Word Doc] of 310 patents and patent applications and then a shorter list [MS Word Doc] of just over 100 patents and applications that MOFCOM focused on. The shorter list appears to be a subset of the longer list, divided into families connected to Microsoft technologies like the exFAT file system and Exchange ActiveSync, denoted as patent group 24(EAS) in the short list.
The longer list is divided into three sections: 73 patents that are said to be “standard-essential patents,” or SEPs, implemented in smartphones generally, followed by 127 patents that Microsoft says are implemented in Android. The final section includes another section of “non-SEP” assets, which includes 68 patent applications and 42 issued patents.
Recent public comments by Apple show that the Cupertino gadget company has reason to believe it’s the most popular target of so-called “patent trolls,” companies whose only business is suing over patents.
“No firm has been targeted by PAEs more than Apple,” wrote Apple in public comments filed with the Federal Trade Commission. “Apple has litigated against PAEs 92 times in the past three years alone and has received many more demands.”
Apple’s most recent filings, at the FTC and in Supreme Court amicus briefs, are unusual in the amount of detail they offer about the particulars of its patent battles. The statistical information it revealed comes from internal Apple legal information as well as a study that Apple commissioned conducted by PatentFreedom, a defense-oriented patent consultancy.
In its amicus brief for Highmark v. Allcare Management Systems, an upcoming Supreme Court case over when fees should be awarded in patent cases, Apple shared a statistic that companies usually keep to themselves: how many cases it settled. Of the 92 cases filed recently, 57 are closed cases; in 51 of those cases, Apple paid the troll. Apple’s lawyers explain:
Apple has rarely lost on the merits. But victory figures as small consolation, because in every one of these cases, Apple has been forced to bear its legal fees. This reality is the lifeblood of the patent assertion industry… Indeed, the opening line of many negotiations is some form of, “What we’re asking for is less than it will cost you to litigate this case to judgment.” It should come as no surprise, then, that despite its success in litigating the merits, for business purposes Apple has agreed to a settlement in 51 of the 57 closed cases.
In the same amicus brief, Apple also takes a shot at its least favorite troll, Lodsys. Apple’s legal team clearly isn’t happy about how Lodsys was able to get off the hook last year after Apple intervened on its developers’ behalf. They write:
One would be hard pressed to imagine a more troubling instantiation of this model than the one practiced by Lodsys Group, LLC… Lodsys burst onto the patent assertion scene in 2011 by firing off a spate of demand letters to app developers, many of whom are individuals with extremely little revenue, alleging that they were using software related to “in-app purchasing” that was covered by a handful of Lodsys-owned patents…
[A]gain, Lodsys scuttled away, settling with each of the developers for a pittance, thereby mooting Apple’s attempted intervention and avoiding a sure loss on the merits… Lodsys has no compunctions about this strategy. It will keep moving from developer to developer, leeching whatever royalties it can until a party with the resources to litigate scares it away.
The PatentFreedom study commissioned by Apple also shows that there are more than 250 active patent trolls in the nation. By the time of the study’s completion in late 2013 (the exact date isn’t clear from Apple’s limited quotes), PAEs had sued 2,873 defendants and were on track to break the 2011 record of 3,103 defendants being sued in a year.
The Apple statistics were revealed in December filings and highlighted this weekend in a front-page story in The Chicago Tribune.
Another interesting “troll” stat, one not revealed in Apple’s filings: Samsung, a company that has been sued by arch-rival Apple over patents, is the trolls’ fifth most popular target. PatentFreedom revealed that statistic to the Korea Herald. Samsung had 38 lawsuits filed against it in 2013.
Apple is apparently only the top target when one calculates patent suits on a three-year basis. According to the Korea Herald—quoting the PatentFreedom study—over the past five years, Google has been the top target, subject to 192 troll lawsuits. That’s followed by Apple with 191 suits, and then Samsung with 151.