A Short History of Apple’s Patent Wars

Lawsuits are messy. And the current patent litigation that’s marching through the tech world is particularly so.

Apple largely started the massive patent battles that seem to be the preferred tactic for stifling one’s competitors in the rapidly transforming consumer electronics world.

Here’s a breakdown of who they’ve sued, and who’s sued them over the last couple of years.

Apple Not the First to Sue

Before even the big dust-up between Apple and Samsung, the current big kids on the block in mobile tech, Nokia sued Apple in 2009 for infringing some of its wireless technology patents. Apple countersued, but eventually settled and paid some royalties to Nokia. Apple’s legal team soon went on the offensive, though.

Smartphone manufacturer, HTC, next came under the crosshairs when Apple sued the company over Android, alleging infringement on 20 patents related to the user interface and other features of the operating system. The company also filed a complaint with the International Trade Commission regarding the rival operating systems software features. It worked. The ITC issued an injunction in April 2011 that blocked the import of both the HTC One X and the EVO 4G LTE.

In May, a Delaware US District Court ordered the two companies to meet to start discussing a settlement.
Motorola filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against Apple in October of 2010; Apple quickly countersued. Both suits were thrown out, however, as well as each company’s injunction requests. Earlier this year, Google acquired Motorola and its wealth of patents.

Apple vs. Samsung: A Landmark Patent Fight

The big fight, Apple’s patent-infringement lawsuits against Samsung, began back in April 2011, when Apple brought 16 claims of copying the iPhone and iPad design, calling Samsung’s Galaxy devices “slavish” copies. Samsung responded with a counter-lawsuit accusing Apple of infringement on 10 of its wireless technology patents, including 3G.

Apple won a victory in the German courts in August, which issued a preliminary injunction that banned the sale of Galaxy Tab 10.1 across the EU. Samsung very quietly disappeared all Galaxy Tab 7.7 promotional material and demo devices from the IFA event in Berlin that same month.

In October, Australia bans the Galaxy Tab 10.1. And by November 2011, Apple is ordered by the court to reveal the source code for the iPhone 4S. Samsung subsequently pushes for a ban on the sale of the 4S in Australia, but the judge postpones the trial until March 2012. By July, an Australian judge threw up her hands over the dispute, which she deemed “ridiculous.”
Overall, the Apple-Samsung battle has taken place in 10 different countries, including more than 20 different related lawsuits. The big win came recently when a jury found in favor of Apple in a California court, ordering the company to pay the maker of the iPhone and iPad over $1 billion.

Future Patent Wars?

There’s much worry in the tech world over the effects on innovation that these types of patent lawsuits have, including the validity of patents that focus on such broad design features as rectangles with rounded edges. The effects of the import and sales bans have meant that Apple has been able to keep competing smartphones off the market, and shares of Nokia and HTC have suffered significantly. Despite that, Android phones are still taking up the majority of new sales in the market. The fact is that all these companies hold patents that they can use to attack the others, and one wonders whether some of these lawsuits might not backfire on Apple or others, or possibly even force the world to come up withnew patent legislation that could entirely change how we think about intellectual property.

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