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(Rock)Star War's On; Stakes High for Android Users

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The Apple vs Samsung war that went on to grab the headlines for long seems like an amateur fight when compared to this one. This one's happening totally in the ring. And, it's between many on either side! What broke out around Halloween seems to pack a lot of tricks, but no treats, unless you are a corporate lawyer on either side.

In a move that could sabotage the experience for millions of android users, should this patent war be won by the Rockstar consortium which has waged the patent battle it could also possibly write a new history in corporate giants fighting it out over patent infringements. The patent suits are pitted to get uglier with ever expanding base of smartphone and tablet users.

For those who tuned in late, here's a recap. Rockstar, a consortium jointly owned by Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry, Ericsson and Sony has sent out a war cry against phones that use Google Android operating system. This means, the suit involves giants such as HTC, Asutek, Huawei, LG Electronics, Pantech, Samsung and LTE who load their mobile products with use the operating system.

What's important is to understand the 'infringement' part of Rockstar's charges against Google & Co. It was in 2011 that Rockstar consortium bought thousands of patents from Nortel when the latter's business collapsed around the same time. For the number of patented innovations bought, the money wasn't exactly huge since Nortel was already on the brink. So, it was a clever 'business strategy' for Rockstar, which seemed like a convenient coming-together of many biggies for a slice of mobile market pie. When Nortel put up its patents for auction, Google had also bid for them and lost out to Rockstar Bidco which purchased them for $ 4.5 billion.

The suit comes at an apt time when Google stocks have crossed about $ 1000 per share, and Rockstar owners parent companies are not exactly setting the market on fire. Roman Tsibulevskiy of Manhattan based Goldstein Patent Law sees this 'timing' of the suit as a very crucial aspect to the whole 'patent battle' premise.

"It is actually slack time for Rockstar owners. Most of the companies in the consortium aren't creating much reverberation in the market with their products. Apple is desperately trying to fill the void that was created with Jobs' death. Innovations at Apple aren't creating any ripples. Microsoft and RIM have their own set of woes to take care of. Since Rockstar is the guard they are all holding before them to avoid any legal charges (none of the companies can be sued directly) I see a very powerful law angle here that is bound to keep the case alive for long," says Roman Tsibulevskiy.

And his words ring true when one understands the charges and complaints leveled against Google and its Android partners. "There is something off-key about the complaints. All the patents had the same names. "I dug further and I noticed that they are suing based on patent family tracing itself originally to a patent filed in February of 1997, which predates Google founding in 1998. The technology relates to providing advertisements to a user searching for desired information within a data network, which is what Google business is mainly based on. I think since Google does not really make money on Android, but funds Android via its search advertising business, the Rockstar aims to hit Google where it hurts the more i.e. its core business, which is web search," he further observes.

Now, it's noteworthy that Google's Android has been doing particularly well, largely thanks to Samsung's growing market and new range of phones including Galaxy which are most preferred and are considered suave by users. In the recent times, Nokia whose mobile division was bought over by Microsoft posted a patent victory over HTC that saw Taiwanese HTC One Smartphone losing out on Eurpoean market, owing to a blanket important ban.

Samsung was facing a potential threat of having to pay up nearly $ 18.3 bn (11.3 bn) if the charges of breaching European anti-trust laws were proved against the company. Around the same time, Samsung decided it would not take its rivals to the court for alleged patent infringements for a period of five years after EU made a strong observation that the company's obsession with courts was stifling competition, leading to a sense of mistrust among the consumers.

Google's Motorola Mobility is also facing charges of being anti-competitive player in the growing mobile market. Right now, Apple and Samsung are involved in various law suits across 10 countries in Europe with more in the pipeline. Bad news keeps coming in.

However, since the litigations slice off a huge share of monetary resources from the companies involved too, it's rather indicative that the experts want to stop knocking the doors of courts every second month. In one of the recently conducted interviews, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said: "There are good things I see on Samsung phones that I wish were in my iPhone; I wish Apple would use them, and could use them, and I don't know if Samsung would stop us. I wish everybody just did a lot of cross-licensing and sharing the good technology; all our products would be better, we'd go further."

Competition not only wins things for you, when you get overboard with it, it also hurts very badly.

Rockstar consortium's legal battle will probably consume a lot of space in the media. Discussions will be woven around it, and mass media will probably watch it with hysterical curiosity. Because, Roman Tsibulevskiy anticipates Google won't lie low for long. Though this patent battle was unexpected, it will definitely get Google's fangs up and the company will strike back with equal force, if not more.

"I see Google suing Rockstar owners individually for patent infringement for some important product lines, such as Bing for Microsoft, iOS for Apple, RIM for some Blackberry features, and so forth. Further, I predict Google will attempt to pierce the corporate veil in 2 ways:

First one being from the Rockstar end by showing that Rockstar legal structure is not a thorough one, and in essence it's like members acting individually under the guise of its name. Secondly, use the individual lawsuits' end to use that information as to what has been happening inside those Rockstar owners regarding the lawsuits and other relevant stuff."

If Google manages this, then the piercing of the veil should provide Google with some litigation leverage because right now the popular search company is clearly the underdog in this case. "Such leverage would somewhat even out the inability of Google to use discovery extensively and potentially allow Google to hit back at some product lines by threatening injunctions" he concludes.

Outcome of the case in some ways is irrelevant. All over the world, corporate companies are heavily investing in R&D to sense and shape the future markers. This legal tangle is sure to provide a very precise direction to protecting patents and framing better laws to protect them, should the companies sell/auction them under distress. Finally, it's the innovation that wins.