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Is patent peace on the horizon? Google and Samsung announced Sunday that they had brokered a global cross-licensing patent agreement covering a wide range of businesses and technologies. While they are keeping the details of the agreement quiet, it appears that the two technology giants are actively trying to avoid patent litigation with each other. The deal is essentially a promise that the parties will not sue each other over existing patents or any filed over the next 10 years.
Samsung’s press release took a shot at Apple: “Samsung and Google are showing the rest of the industry that there is more to gain from cooperating than engaging in unnecessary patent disputes,” said Dr. Seungho Ahn, head of Samsung’s intellectual property center, likely referencing Apple’s past–and ongoing–litigation against Samsung. This deal will strengthen Samsung and Google’s positions in future litigation against Apple and other competitors.
The two companies seem to be making a concerted effort to reduce tensions in the patent world. Last year, Google announced an “Open Patent Non-Assertion Pledge,” a promise not to sue infringers who create free or open source software, in hopes that others would follow suit. However, the 40 U.S. patents included in that pledge make up a small fraction of the 1800+ patents Google received last year. But even Google is dwarfed by Samsung, which received an impressive 4,676 patents last year, second only to IBM, according to IFI Claims patent services.
In addition to the deal with Google, Samsung recently entered into a cross-licensing agreement with Ericsson, the Swedish network corporation. Unlike the Google agreement, however, this deal was largely motivated by ongoing ITC disputes and litigation between Samsung and Ericsson, and Samsung will pay a significant financial as part of the deal.
While agreements like these may provide some relief from the turmoil of patent litigation, they are probably not indicative of pending patent peace. Although competitors in some respects, the interests of Google and of Samsung are closely aligned: Google’s Android operating system runs most of Samsung’s most popular smartphones. And Samsung’s litigation with Apple has showed no sign of slowing down, with the next chapter slated to go to trial in March.
Large-scale patent wars will not end until the patent holders decide it makes business sense to cooperate, not litigate. Yet as the patent thicket grows, litigation between the tech giants seems counterproductive. With the absurd complexity of patents in the smartphone arena, it would behoove the industry to engage in more cross-licensing deals like these. But for now, whether this deal is a sign of reduced hostilities or an isolated agreement remains to be seen.
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