4G launch could see mobile makers sued by software firms, says lawyer

By Sooraj Shah
24 Jan 2013 View Comments
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The likes of Samsung, Apple, Nokia and RIM should be wary of firms that hold patents on technologies designed to exploit the use of 4G speeds, a lawyer has warned.

John-Paul Rooney (pictured), partner and patent attorney at intellectual property firm Withers & Rogers, told Computing that while handset makers will be bulking up their patent portfolios in order to deter legal action from their competitors, companies dealing with other aspects of mobile technology are working in the background on beefing up their patent suites as well.

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"I'm talking about the value added services to go on top of the technology and how these new services that will be available in 4G will be made secure," Rooney said.

"With new services there could be more people using electronic travel documents, and perhaps other things like passports, driver licences and health records. While people could be using their banks on their phones a lot more too, but it all depends on security. It might be that the advent of 4G could enable all of this to happen over the next few years," he added.

In the UK, EE is currently the only mobile operator that has launched a 4G service, but this is to be followed in May or June by new services from those operators who are successful in the ongoing 4G auction.

The introduction of 3G in 2000 changed the way people used mobile devices, with a huge rise in mobile email one of the biggest manifestations of this. But Rooney said that much can be learnt from the fallout of the 3G auction.

"The most successful phone at the time was RIM's BlackBerry, but it appeared later that some of the technology the handset used was actually [then mobile email solution provider] Visto's. This led to a big dispute," he said.

RIM eventually agreed to pay Visto $267.5m to settle a three-year patent dispute, and Rooney said that other companies could be trying to mirror what Visto did.

"Visto was ultimately successful and it got a big payout. Of course, RIM knew that their security system for email was the best in class and they wanted to continue to use it," he said.

Visto went on to acquire Good Technology from Motorola in 2009, and then renamed itself after the mobile device management firm.

Rooney said that another firm that could imitate Visto is digital security solution provider Gemalto, which recently announced that it would be working with EE on its 4G services.

"Gemalto are the world leaders in digital security, they help providers to switch over from 3G to 4G. I had a look at the number of patents it filed between 2008 and the end of 2011 and it was 55. In 2012 they had published 146 – almost triple the number of patents – and this ties in with the update of 4G," Rooney said.

"It may not be in the public's eyes but companies are working behind the scenes on filing a lot of patents to maximise their revenues from their innovations," he added.

Rooney urged firms to ensure that they do not fall into the same trap as RIM did with Visto.

"If RIM had done a deal with Visto a lot earlier, before 3G had become mainstream, then the settlement would have been a lot lower," he said.

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