Patent war unlikely to bring Androidocalypse

One of the biggest losers in the ongoing patent battle is the consumer
  • (Network World)
  • — 03 July, 2012 21:33

On the surface, Apple's recent courtroom victories are a threat to the future of the Android platform. A pair of injunctions blocking Samsung's Galaxy Tab and Galaxy Nexus from sale in the U.S. could lay the groundwork for a similar action against the Galaxy S III, as well as a huge range of other Android devices.

While these are serious problems for the Android ecosystem, legal wrangling has become commonplace in the smartphone industry. Gartner Research Vice President Carolina Milanesi describes them in an email as "a part of the mobile computing business."

BACKGROUND: Apple wins injunction against Galaxy NexusCourt rejects Samsung's motion for a stay regarding Galaxy Tab 10.1 injunction

Still, the effects are not incidental. While it's possible that bitterly fought patent wars could spur innovation by prompting companies to design their products in new and different ways, according to Milanesi, it's just as likely to stifle creativity by forcing engineers to tackle the same problem over and over again.

IBB Consulting partner Jefferson Wang holds the latter point of view. In addition to the direct costs imposed by a loss of sales, he says, successful injunctions force Android OEMs like Samsung to spend their time engineering their way around existing problems, rather than developing profitable new devices.

As well, in a worst-case scenario, the developer community could begin to drop the Android platform en masse if it feels its options are too badly constrained by legal action, according to Wang.

"They're really focused on 'How big is the install base,' and 'How capable are we [of monetizing] that install base,'" he says of developers. "So if you really think about how these rulings play out as a developer, you already have some issues with fragmentation ... it can reduce the potential number of screens you can reach."

Will Stofega, director of mobile device research for IDC, agrees that the potential stifling of creativity is one of the more serious issues posed by the continuing legal threat from Apple and others.

"What could end up happening is a situation where the market starts to become problematic in the sense that you have one company dictating what their competitors' innovations are going to be," he says.

Nevertheless, the effects of litigation shouldn't be overemphasized.

"You won't have a situation where, all of a sudden, [because of] this patent dispute, Apple will ... stop selling iPhones and Samsung will stop selling Android phones," says Wang. Almost without exception, companies will simply adjust their feature sets, pay a fee for the patent, or find some other way to reach an agreement, and business as usual will resume.

Despite the seriousness of the issue, Stofega says patent litigation is unlikely to cause a full-blown disaster for the Android ecosystem.

"You get all [these arguments] between Android fanboys and Apple fanboys ... some of that gets into it and contributes to the hype," he says. Moreover, the latest injunctions against Samsung are far less of a threat to Android than the recent Oracle lawsuit that targeted the platform more directly.

"I don't think this is quite the apocalypse scenario that a lot of people make it out to be," he says.

So are the lawyers the only real winners here? "Exactly," says Stofega.

All three experts agree that one of the biggest losers in the ongoing patent battle is the consumer.

"Once we start to see bans on products, I feel consumers are losing out as devices are pulled from the market even before the case is decided," writes Milanesi.

"At some point, people have to come back to the table and negotiate over these things," Stofega says. "If not, then you're going to get an already-overburdened patent system that sort of created the problem getting even more overburdened ... at the end of the day, I don't know if the consumer really benefits."

"In the end, it all adds up to the customers ultimately losing," says Wang.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Gold

Network World
Comments are now closed.

Latest News Articles

Most Popular Articles

Follow Us

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Resources

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Compare & Save

Deals powered by WhistleOut
WhistleOut

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?