Monday, November 12, 2012

Surprise: Apple, HTC come to patent deal; does this point to a less 'thermonuclear' approach to Android litigation?

In what is a surprising development, Apple and HTC announced on Saturday night that the two companies have come to terms, resolving all current lawsuits with a ten-year license agreement. The agreement extends to current and future patents held by both companies.

While the terms of the settlement are confidential, one interesting fact is that Apple doesn't appear to be attempting to extract an arm and a leg from HTC. HTC said that it "does not expect this license agreement to have any adverse material impact on the financials of the company."

It would appear, therefore, that the settlement is relatively cheap, especially considering that a U.S. jury ordered Samsung to more than a billion dollars for infringing on Apple patents.

That fact is significant in another way. When former Apple CEO Steve Jobs said he would go "thermonuclear" over Android, it seemed that the company was less interested in licensing agreements than in destroying the platform, which Jobs said was "stolen."

In other words, the fact that the Cupertino, Calif.-based tech giant has decided to settle -- at all -- with other entities is significant in and of itself.

Whether this means anything in terms of continuing litigation with other device makers, such as Samsung and Motorola, remains to be seen. While HTC is still a key Android maker, it is Samsung's Galaxy S III that overtook Apple's iPhone at the top of the Q3 device heap, globally. It is also Samsung that owns the crown for top worldwide mobile device maker.

Samsung, therefore, is far more of a threat than HTC. Motorola, now owned by Google, is in a similar situation.

It's possible, too, that Apple has taken the strategy that “the enemy of the enemy is my friend," since HTC continues to struggle against other Android device makers. That's pure speculation on our part, of course, and we'll never truly know.

Still, the settlement has to make owners of Samsung, Motorola, LG, ZTE, and other Android devices happier. It doesn't appear that Apple is continuing with its thermonuclear threat. It will and does settle patent disputes with licensing. Whether or not it will do so with its biggest rival, Samsung, is still an open question.

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