Apple and Google are often on opposite sides – but they are now both targets of a new attack.
In what some might call an opportunistic move, Unwired Planet LLC launched a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple Inc in the US District Court of Nevada yesterday, alleging infringement of 10 of its patents. It simultaneously filed a separate lawsuit against Google Inc alleging infringement of another 10 patents.
In the Apple case, Unwired Planet is going after the lot – the iPhone, iPad, iPod, iTunes, Safari, voice assistant "Siri" and the App Store are all targets, with the subject patents relating to cloud messaging systems, mobile digital content and location services. Against Google, Unwired Planet claims infringement of patents in relation to mobile search and advertising systems, with Google AdWords, Google Wallet and Google Maps all in the firing line.
Unwired Planet’s claims have raised eyebrows for "patent trolling", a term sometimes used to refer to persons or companies that enforce their intellectual property aggressively for the sake of enforcement, without an intention to manufacture or market the patented invention. The lawsuits reflect Unwired Planet’s strategy to transform themselves into an IP company. Mike Mulica, CEO of Unwired Planet, stated in a press release:
"This litigation marks a key step in our multi-pronged strategy to maximize shareholder value through the licensing of our robust portfolio of patents and to protect our IP through litigation against unlicensed parties as necessary.
"Apple and Google generate substantial revenues from devices and services that rely on the intellectual property that Unwired Planet developed and patented over the last 15 years. They should compensate us for the use of our patented technologies, which are foundational to mobility."
This move follows on from a complaint filed in 2011 by Unwired Planet with the International Trade Commission in Washington DC, requesting the Commission stop Apple from importing into the US smartphones and tablet computers that they alleged infringed Unwired Planet’s patents.
Why the sudden attack? Unwired Planet is no stranger to the danger of infringing competition. Having been pushed out of the market by competitors who use the mobile technology it helped innovate and develop, perhaps Unwired Planet has learnt a hard lesson – that merely having patents does not protect you against competition. The company’s renewed focus on IP has seen it shift its business towards licensing its patent portfolio to competitors.
Unwired Planet, formerly known as Openwave Systems Inc., was founded in 1994 and was an innovator of mobile internet technology. It played a key role in developing the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), the first widely used standard which enabled mobile devices to connect to the internet, and was also the first company to put an internet browser into a phone.
Over the years, Unwired Planet has accumulated a substantial portfolio of foundational patents that allow mobile devices connect to the internet – with approximately 200 issued US and foreign patents and another 75 pending applications, we are sure we will be hearing a lot more about their enforcement actions.