M&M: Inside the Microsoft/Motorola Patent Infringement Suit
What's going on so far?
Last week we heard news that Microsoft filed suit against Motorola for alleged patent infringements. That may not have come as a surprise to many, because in the past we've heard Microsoft accuse Android phones of having features on that infringe on MS patents. It also happens just as MS is rolling out their own line of handsets running Windows 7 mobile.
This also isn't the first time a manufacturer has been sued for infringing patents on their Android phone; Apple has already sued HTC for the same kind of thing. Even companies holding many patents can be sued, though this often tends to happen when obscure little companies sit on a handful of patents until a bigger company happens to come along and infringe on them. Of course, this can be unintentional on both ends.
Patent Infringements happen all the time
Sometimes companies can afford to go ahead and risk a patent infringment. This was the case with Mirror Worlds, who holds patents for "Document Stream Operating System." In all fairness to the company, that seems to be the only patent they hold, and they filed for it back in early 2003, and again in 2010.
Apple has been ordered to pay $625.5 million in damages to Mirror Worlds for a case filed in 2008, that alleged that the iTunes "Cover Flow" and "Time Machine" interface infringed on Mirror Worlds' patent ($208.5 million was awarded for each patent). Currently, Apple is fighting the verdict, saying that Mirror Worlds is "Triple Dipping" by requesting that Apple pay the $625.5 million. Interestingly, Apple has since been awarded the Cover Flow patent that they applied for in April 2009. Whether or not this means anything in the big picture remains to be seen.
What about Major Companies?
It's not only obscure companies and squatters we hear about in these patent infringement cases. Big boys like Microsoft and HTC have recently found themselves in the middle of a patent dispute over nine patents held by Microsoft that they allege HTC has infringed on with their Android devices.
The Alleged Infringements:
1) US Patent No. 5,579,517 – Common Name Space for Long and Short File Names – Issued November 26, 1996 – (Cites Droid 2 as an example)
Abstract From Patent Filing (PDF Download):
An operating system provides a common name space for both long filenames and short filenames. In this common namespace, a long filename and a short filename are provided for each file. Each file has a short filename directory entry and may have at least one long filename directory entry associated with it. The number of long filename directory entries that are associated with a file depends on the number of characters in the long filename of the file. The long filename directory entries are configured to minimize compatibility problems with existing installed program bases.
2) US Patent No. 5,758,352 Common Name Space for Long and Short File Names – Issued November 26, 1996 – (Cites Droid 2 as an example)
An operating system provides a common name space for both long filenames and short filenames. In this common namespace, a long filename and a short filename are provided for each file. Each file has a short filename directory entry and may have at least one long filename directory entry associated with it. The number of long filename directory entries that are associated with a file depends on the number of characters in the long filename of the file. The long filename directory entries are configured to minimize compatibility problems with existing installed program bases
3) US Patent No. 6,621,746 – Monitoring Entropic Conditions of a Flash Memory Device as an Indicator for Invoking Erasure Operations – Issued September 16, 2003 – (Cites Charm as an example)
Erase operations are performed on a flash memory device by monitoring the entropic nature of the flash memory device. In one implementation, flash abstraction logic, tracks how many physical sectors are free to receive data; track how many physical sectors contain data that is dirty, and compare whether the physical sectors that are free to receive data outnumber the physical sectors that contain data that is dirty. A compactor performs an erase operation of one or more blocks when the physical sectors that contain data that is dirty outnumber the physical sectors that are free to receive data. In another implementation, the flash abstraction logic tracks how many physical sector addresses are free to receive data, and track when the physical sector addresses that are free to receive data are insufficient in quantity to receive write requests from a file system. The compactor executes an erase operation of one or more blocks if the physical sector addresses that are free to receive data are insufficient in quantity.
4) US Patent No. 6,826,762 – Radio Interface Layer in a Cell Phone with a Set of APIs Having a Hardware-Independent Proxy Layer and a Hardware-Specific Driver Layer – Issued November 30, 2004 – (Cites Droid 2 as example)
A Radio Interface Layer (RIL) is disclosed. The RIL comprises an API set which provides a level of abstraction between the radio on a cell phone and the software of the cell phone. The API set of RIL is roughly based on the GSM AT interface as defined in GSM specifications 07.05 and 07.07. The API set provides access to functionality contained within a cellular telephone, such as a GSM or CDMA compatible telephone. These APIs allow applications running on an operating system in the cellular telephone to issue commands without knowledge of the underlying radio structure of the cellular telephone and specific knowledge of the GSM-type commands. For example, these APIs allow the applications to access to phonebook entries, restrict access to data and functionality using passwords, access file and message storage, and perform many other functions. The RIL is divided into a hardware-independent proxy layer, called by various software components, and a driver layer that is hardware-specific.
5) US Patent No. 6,909,910 – Method and System for Managing Changes to a Contact Database – Issued June 21, 2005 – (Cites Droid 2 as an example):
Described is a system and method for updating a contact and adding a new contact from a call log in a communications device. The system includes a contact manager that is directed towards creating and updating call contact cards in a contact database with information retrieved from call logs of phone calls made to or from the communications device. In one embodiment, information is pre-populated into a predetermined data field of the contact card, thereby reducing workload to a user. The method includes determining if a request is for updating an existing contact card or for adding a new contact card to the contact database. The update or addition is made with information retrieved from call logs. Call information is pre-populated into a predetermined data field of the contact card, when it is determined that the request is to add a new contact card to the contact database.
6) US Patent No. 7,644,376 – Flexible Architecture for Notifying Applications of State Changes – Issued January 5, 2010. (Cites Droid 2 as an example)
Described is a method and system a unified mechanism for storing device, application, and service state, as well as a rich notification brokerage architecture. Clients register with a notification broker to receive notifications for changes to state properties. When a registered state property changes, a notification broker determines which clients to notify of the state change and provides the client with a notification regarding the change. Clients may be notified whenever a state changes, when a state change meets a predetermined condition, or based on a schedule. An application may also be launched in response to a state change. An application programming interface (API) is provided that provides a unified way of accessing state change information across different components within the device.
7) US Patent No. 5,664,133 – Context Sensitive Menu System/Menu Behavior – Issued September 2, 1997 – (Droid 2 cited as an example)
A method and system are described for a computer system for retrieving and presenting a set of commands in the form of a pop up context menu for a selected object. The context menu is displayed in the proximity of the selected object and is determined primarily by the class of the selected object and secondarily by the particular container in which the selected object resides at the time of selection. The context menu displays a number of useful features which enable the user to quickly and easily invoke commands upon the selected object.
8) US Patent No. 6,578,054 – Method and System for Supporting Off-line Mode of Operation and Synchronization Using Resource State Information – Issued June 10, 2003 – (Droid 2 cited as an example)
Abstract (PDF) :
Systems and methods for synchronizing multiple copies of data in a network environment that includes servers and clients so that incremental changes made to one copy of the data can be identified, transferred, and incorporated into all other copies of the data. The synchronization can be accomplished regardless of whether modifications to the data have been made by a client while the client is in an on-line or off-line mode of operation. The clients cache data locally as data are modified and downloaded. The caching enables the clients to access the data and allows the synchronization so be performed without transmitting a particular version more than once between a client and a server. Such elimination of redundant data transmission results in an efficient use of time and network bandwidth.
9) US Patent No. 6,370,566 – Generating Meeting Requests and Group Scheduling from a Mobile Device – Issued April 9, 2002 – (Droid 2 Cited as example)
Abstract (PDF) :
The present invention includes a mobile device which provides the user with the ability to schedule a meeting request from the mobile device itself. The mobile device creates an object representative of the meeting request and assigns the object a global identification number which uniquely identifies the object to other devices which encounter the object. In addition, the mobile device in accordance with one aspect of the present invention provides a property in the object which is indicative of whether the meeting request has already been transmitted. In this way, other devices which encounter the meeting request are capable of identifying it as a unique meeting request, and of determining whether the meeting request has already been transmitted, in order to alleviate the problem of duplicate meeting request transmissions.
What happens next?
It will probably be a long time before we find out what happens between the two. They may duke it out in court, or simply settle. Either way, this lawsuit shows one of our main concerns with the Android platform. This is not the first such lawsuit filed, and we can be assured that it won't be the last.
In a situation that is working much more smoothly for the two companies involved, it's worth pointing out that manufacturer HTC is also developing products that implement patents owned by Microsoft. However, they pay the licensing fee for every phone sold. Again, the question of cost comes up for Android. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer explained to the Wall Street Journal, "Android has a patent fee. It's not like Android's free. You do have to license patents. HTC's signed a license with us and you're going to see license fees clearly for Android as well as for Windows." This means that the responsibility doesn't necessarily fall on Android, as it's more a question of whether or not manufacturers are playing the patent game correctly. Although if Google wanted to make Android truly "free," they would have to pay to license out all the patents.
Still, nothing in the tech and corporate world is completely cut and dry. Everybody in the mobile business seems to be suing each other as is shown by the chart below, which was created by Design Langauge News: