On Friday 16 May 2014 it was announced that Apple and Google have reached a decision to drop the ongoing lawsuits between them and will work together to reform patent law. A joint announcement stated that: “Apple and Google have agreed to dismiss all the current lawsuits that exist directly between the two companies. Apple and Google have also agreed to work together in some areas of patent reform. The agreement does not include a cross license”.
The suits at issue are those 20 or so suits across Europe and the US that Google inherited when it purchased Motorola Mobility in 2012 for more than $12 billion. Although on the face of it, this announcement may seem as seismic, in reality, it is probably more symbolic - Motorola, the once great mobile manufacturer, is no longer much competition to Apple.
The relationship between Apple and Google is complex. Obviously, Apple and Google make the two most prominent operating systems in the mobile sector: iOS and Android.
At present, Apple is embroiled in a bitter patent war with Samsung, the biggest maker of phones having the Android platform, and this dispute between Apple and Samsung is far from settled.
Google has been helping Samsung in this war, and will continue to do so, notwithstanding this agreement.
In fact, during a recent trial between Apple and Samsung, Samsung argued that Apple’s real target in the litigation was Android and tried to argue that it did not need to copy Apple’s technology for the software as many of the disputed features were present in the Android software. Indeed, it is rumoured that Samsung and Google had an agreement that Google would pay some of the defence costs and take some liability for patents related to Android. So, although there is a cease fire between the two companies directly, hostilities may not cease completely.
Where companies do agree though is that curbs need to be placed on patent licensing firms. Apple had the dubious honour last year of being the most sued company when it came to US patent lawsuits and Google was 4th. However, even though both companies wish for the same ends, both companies behave very differently in this regard.
Google is funding lobbyists to get the US Congress to put more stringent requirements on firms filing lawsuits, to cause the loser to pay the winner’s legal fees and to expand post grant review procedures at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
On the other hand, Apple is part of a group that have warned Congress not to limit patent rights too much.
With the complex relationship between these two tech giants being so complex, it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this agreement will truly have.