Apple is accustomed to walking the red carpet in the holiday season but this year some of its vulnerabilities are starting to show. Its strategy to thwart tablet challengers through the law courts even before the market gains scale is delivering only mixed results, frustrating rivals but not knocking them out; and now Amazon not only has an effective alternative in the slate space (and one free from Apple litigation so far), but the retailer is putting together a whole ecosystem around its devices, which really could eat into Apple’s territory.
In the courts, the past week has seen most of the points scored by Apple’s rivals, although the first really decisive case in the anti-Android campaign will be heard this week, when the US International Trade Commission judges a patent dispute with HTC – the first time a court will make a final, rather than a preliminary, ruling on the claims that Android infringes Apple patents. this will be an important pointer for all the other cases going on around the world – over 30 with Samsung alone.
In the waiting period for the HTC case, another of Apple’s targets, Motorola, has won a very significant victory – made more meaningful because it will soon be owned by Google, which acquired it largely to strengthen its own IPR position, and therefore Android’s. Motorola, like Nokia and Samsung, has vast reserves of fundamental wireless intellectual property, which Apple lacks. The firms were slow to deploy this weapon, partly because many of the patents are essential to wireless standards, and therefore raise complex issues of licensing structures, RAND laws and ‘double-dipping’. but when this kind of IPR is placed on the table, Apple is immediately on the back foot. it was forced to make a compromise deal with Nokia earlier this year and now Motorola Mobility has own a key round in Germany, the most important European center for IPR disputes.
The court has ruled that Apple’s European sales company, Ireland-based Apple Sales International, is infringing one of Motorola’s core cellular patents related to GPRS, in the iPhone and iPad. according to the Foss Patents blog, the ruling includes an injunction against the iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4, plus both iPad models, though this is unlikely to come into force any time soon. Motorola said it had been negotiating with Apple over licensing for more than four years and would continue to try to resolve the dispute.
Meanwhile, Samsung has failed to win an injunction against the iPhone in its first attempt on this front, in France, but has won the right to sell its Galaxy Tab 10.1 slate over the holiday period in Australia – another bellwether territory for the firms’ battles in larger markets such as Europe and the US. Australia’s highest court had reversed a preliminary injunction issued by a lower jurisdiction, but Apple had still petitioned for the tablet to be kept off the shelves for a few more weeks. However, on Friday the appeals court allowed the Tab 10.1 to offered to consumers again from this week – though the actual patents case is still due to be heard in the spring. Samsung also recently saw Apple lose a bid for a US injunction against its devices.
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