In a scene straight out of Bizarro World, Apple, Inc.’s (AAPL) lawyers are crying foul about Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (SEO:005930) and recent Google Inc. (GOOG) acquisitions Motorola’s allegedly “anticompetitive” use of patents.
I. Apple Claims Android Phone makers are “Abusing” Patent System
Yes, this is the same Apple that has initiated a patent war  with these smartphone rivals. And it’s the same rival that has tried to remove competing products from the market, rather than agree to negotiate a licensing fee. And it’s the same company that patented multi-touch gestures 26 years after they were invented at a research university. And it’s the same company that allegedly doctored evidence in European courts  to support its lawsuits against Android.
Yet in Apple’s rose-colored glasses it is Samsung and Motorola who are bullies. Apparently Apple is irate about these companies’ countersuits, which rely largely on patents covering wireless communications.
Many of these patents are governed by the “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” (F/RAND) principle, as they were developed as part of industry standards. Basically the premise is that R&D companies are guaranteed to be paid, but generally have to license F/RAND patents to whoever wants to use them.
But given Apple’s legal belligerence, the carriers have made a special exception when it comes to Apple. And Apple, struggling in court, is growing increasingly frustrated.
The company’s lawyers stated in a recent Motorola hearing, “By making false commitments that led to the establishment of worldwide standards incorporating its own patents and eliminating competing alternative technologies. Motorola [Mobility] has become a gatekeeper, accruing the power to harm or eliminate competition in the relevant markets if it so desires.”
Apple takes issue with the fact that Motorola in its countersuit declines to differentiate the 7 F/RAND patents in its 18 patent collection. In a previous case Finland’s Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V) used F/RAND patents, along with other patents, to win a cross-licensing settlement with Apple. However, apparently in that case Nokia differentiated the F/RAND patents in a special section of its court filings — something Apple is supposedly okay with.
II. Apple Supporters Chime In
Apple has some allies in the F/RAND debate.
On Bloomberg TV the founder and CEO of a leading standards certifier M-CAM, Dr. David Martin, joined the attack, calling Motorola’s patents “crap” and stating, “And the relatively best ones MMI has — which wasn’t discussed on Bloomberg — are subject to FRAND commitments.”
And pro-Apple patent blogger Florian Mueller comments, “[T]here have been completely off-base claims by some people that the 18 patents MMI is asserting against Apple are so powerful that they can protect Android as a whole (including other OEMs, such as Samsung, HTC and LG). [Google is] issuing statements that blow the strategic value of MMI’s patents completely out of proportion. Googlorola won’t help Samsung, as I explained before.”
He quotes Apple’s lawyers writing, “Samsung has unlawfully acquired monopoly power in markets for the technologies purportedly covered by patents which Samsung claims are essential to industry standards (‘declared essential patents’) by deceiving standards-setting organizations (‘SSOs’)… having obtained this ill-gotten monopoly power, Samsung has engaged in a relentless campaign of illegal and abusive assertions of its declared-essential patents to try to coerce Apple into tolerating Samsung’s continuing imitation of [the iPhone and the iPad].”
III. EDITORIAL: Our Take
Regardless of what Mr. Mueller says, it’s hard to dispute that the “rules” of F/RAND are largely community dictated and ambiguous. This is clearly a highly specialized case in which one company is using questionable claims (e.g. the ownership of all modern smart phone and tablet designs) to try to dictate its will on the market and grant itself a monopoly. Whether the victims still have to bow down and offer their attacker F/RAND licensing is certainly debatable.
And Mr. Mueller’s assertion that the IP won’t help Motorola and Samsung’s case seems disingenuous. After all, if it were so inconsequential, why would Apple be so upset about it in court?
This isn’t the first time that Apple has accused competitors over something it itself is doing. Apple chief executive and co-founder, Steven P. Jobs has bragged about his mastery of stealing ideas from others, stating , “Picasso had a saying – ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal.’ And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
But faced with large touch-screen competitors to his iPhone and iPad, the CEO and Apple’s lawyers cried foul, accusing these rivals of “slavishly” copying the company’s intellectual property.
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