Smartphone Street Fight

By Will Kavanagh

If you pay attention to the news when it comes to smartphones, those battery-powered, Angry Birds-playing, touch-screen lifelines that many Americans carry on their person constantly, you’ve probably noticed a lot of legal action being taken in the industry. Samsung is locked in a legal battle with Apple that stretches around the world, with the Korean manufacturer’s Galaxy S/SII phones and Galaxy Tab tablets under fire for allegedly copying the design of Apple’s iPhone and iPad products. Recently, a court in Australia granted Apple an injunction in the matter, freezing all sales of the infringing Samsung products “down undah” until further notice. In the United States, Apple successfully moved to have unreleased Samsung products made available to its teams to determine if these upcoming products also infringed on Apple’s designs. Samsung attempted to reciprocate and get its hands on the iPhone 5 and the iPad 3 but Apple was able to dodge this, claiming that the iPhone 5 and iPad 3 do not exist. Legal burn? Yeah, I thought so too.

At Apple’s chief rival, Google, things have been heating up as well in recent months. This summer, it was announced that Google is buying out Motorola Mobility, the mobile devices half of the company formerly known as Motorola. This sent a shockwave through the mobile devices world because it meant that Apple would soon no longer be the only “all-in-one” smartphone company, producing both the mobile operating system AND the phone itself. In addition to having its own in-house manufactuer, Google obtained access to Moto’s whale of a patent portfolio, which many industry analysts believe the deal itself was based upon, not being able to make its own Android phones.

In addition to these major happenings in the industry, Apple is also engaged in a lawsuit against Microsoft over trademark infringement for the use of the term “app store” by the Redmond, Washington-based software giant in its Windows Phone 7 operating system. To make a long story short, almost everyone that makes phones, apps, or mobile operating systems is suing somebody else or being sued, which has been the case for a couple of years now. So why is this newsworthy? Because Apple’s Christmas came about two months early last week.

Earlier today, the United States Patent & Trademark Office granted Apple a patent for “Slide to Unlock” functionality, that little feature that all iOS and Android smartphones and tablets use to bypass the lock screen. For many smartphone users, this feature seems as common as the dialpad on a regular phone or the keyboard on a computer. Apple now owns that feature, and the higher-ups at HTC, Samsung, Motorola Mobility, and every other Android manufactuer are probably groaning this morning, knowing that all of their Android-based devices are infringing on Apple’s intellectual property now. All of these companies will likely have to reach a licensing agreement with Apple or figure out a new unlocking mechanism with the developers at Google. Get your checkbooks ready, Team Android, because somewhere, right now, the newborn reincarnation of Steve Jobs is smiling.

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