The smartphone industry is an incredibly lucrative business. According to data released by research firm Gartner in November 2013, worldwide sales of smartphones in 2013 were up nearly 50 percent on 2012, and now account for more than half all mobile phone sales for the first time. In fact smartphones accounted for 55 percent of overall mobile phone sales in the third quarter of 2013. Worldwide, the smartphone market is worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

It is not surprising, then, that there has been a significant increase in the number of patent litigation cases between the major smartphone manufacturers over the last few years. Recently all of the preeminent smartphone manufacturers, including Sony, Google, Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Nokia, Motorola and HTC havebecome embroiled in the protracted, expensive and increasingly bitter world of patent and licensing disputes. The various companies have lodged a number of claims and counter-claims for patent and design right infringements across multiple jurisdictions. There have been at least 25 different companies involved in the so-called smartphone wars, with litigation covering over 25,000 patents exchanged between them.

Apple and Samsung are two of the most prolific litigators within the smartphone sector, particularly when squaring up to each other. In November 2013, the two companies once again appeared in a California courtroom for a re-trial aimed at resolving a disputed damages award which was initially handed down in March 2013. In this instance, the matter involved a ruling which initially dictated that Samsung was liable to pay Apple $1.05bn in damages.

When Apple first launched the iPhone in 2007, the company revolutionised the smartphone industry. In terms of the design of the device and the uniqueness of the user interface, clearly the patents filed for the device were both original and distinctly innovative. However, by the time Apple first filed its case against Samsung in 2011, and even more so today, these patents affect virtually every smartphone and tablet device on the market. Given the ubiquity of black rectangular touchscreen devices, it is increasingly difficult to imagine any such device taking on an alternative form in the future.

Jan-Mar 2014 issue

Richard Summerfield